Temperatures are soaring this summer. Preliminary data suggest that this June was likely the hottest June on record, NPR reported. And the week of July 4 saw the hottest global temperatures recorded, according to The Washington Post.

Parents need to be especially careful about the heat as children react differently to high temperatures than adults do; the physiology of babies and young children is also distinct from that of older kids.

Babies and little ones between the ages of 1 to 5 sweat less and generate more heat as they move around. In comparison with older children and adults, a larger percentage of young children’s bodies are made up of water, according to Scientific American. Their kidneys are also less effective at filtering than those of adults — all of which leaves them particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness. 

We also need to be careful about older kids and teens who may push their physical limits without understanding the risks. And rather than dealing with a dangerous heat-related sickness like heat exhaustion or heat stroke — which can lead to death — the best approach is to try to prevent your children from getting too hot in the first place. 

Keep them cool

Here are some tips for dealing with our super hot summer, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Weather Service

  • Never leave children of any age alone in a parked car, even with the windows cracked open. So far in 2023, 10 children have died after being left in a hot car, according to the website Kidsandcars.org, which tracks such deaths.
  • Dress babies and young children in loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. Although there is still debate over whether a black shirt or a white shirt is better for hot weather, dark fabric absorbs light and heat and the CDC recommends light-colored, airy clothing in heat.
  • Keep them hydrated. Make sure your kids drink plenty of fluids; water is best, and stay away from very cold and sugary drinks.
  • Stay inside during the hottest part of the day, which is usually late morning to late afternoon.
  • Schedule outdoor activities only for the early morning or early evening hours; when you are outside, take frequent breaks to cool off and hydrate. 
  • If you don’t have air conditioning at home, try to find indoor activities at public places, like the library.
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Warning signs

While thirst is an important cue, what it actually signals is that your body is already dehydrated. So by the time your child is articulating that they’re thirsty, they could already be headed toward danger. 

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can both emerge suddenly. And children can’t always communicate what they’re feeling, which also makes them more susceptible to heat-related illness. So watch for the following symptoms.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • Heavy sweating. 
  • Fast pulse.
  • Nausea or vomiting. 
  • Clammy, pale, cool skin. 
  • Passing out. 
  • Headache.

The symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Elevated body temperature. 
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Fainting. 
  • Exhibiting disorientation or confusion. 
  • Skin that feels hot, dry or damp or that appears red.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. If your child exhibits symptoms of heat stroke, call 911. 

See the CDC’s chart with a complete list of heat exhaustion and heat stroke symptoms and further information on what to do if your child is suffering from either condition. 

Monitoring babies and toddlers

If you have a baby or very young child, also watch for the following heat-related symptoms, according to British Columbia’s HealthLink

Take care of your teen athletes

Though it might seem safe to assume that your young athlete is accustomed to the physical stress that comes with high temperatures, heat is still dangerous for teenagers who participate in outdoor sports such as cross-country, track, soccer or football. And even if the other athletes around them seem to be tolerating the heat, it’s best not to take chances: Last August, a 17-year-old died of heatstroke while playing football in Corpus Christi, Texas. And, in 2007, an 18-year-old runner died in Charlottesville, Virginia, after completing the same workout that a teammate did an hour before, when it was even hotter.

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Young athletes should never gauge their ability to tolerate heat by the reactions of those around them; just because some teammates are handling the heat well doesn’t mean that everyone is. Instead, teenage athletes need to be aware of the signs of heat stroke so they can stop at the first sign of danger.

And parents and coaches need to be aware, too, since young athletes might not know when they need to take a break, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Parents and coaches of football players need to be particularly careful as wearing heavy equipment can exacerbate the heat. “Studies have shown that the risk of developing a heat-related illness is 11.4 times higher in football than all other sports combined,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Parents, coaches and young athletes alike should watch for:

  • Dizziness and/or weakness.
  • Headache.
  • Disorientation or unusual behavior.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Collapsing.

The best way to prevent a death from heat stroke is to prevent overheating in the first place. Coaches and parents should take the following steps when their young athletes are training or playing in the heat:

  • Give athletes a chance to acclimatize to heat: Don’t go from a summer spent indoors to brutal late-afternoon practices. Athletes are most likely to suffer a heat-related illness during the first three days of practice; by Day 10, the body is mostly acclimatized to heat, though full acclimatization occurs at two weeks.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • In addition to plenty of fluids, make sure athletes have access to shade, ice packs and cold towels to help bring their core temperature down.
  • And this last one is true for anyone dealing with heat at any age: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
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