The sun is shining bright in the sky even as I am writing this article. At times, even adults don’t realize that they are getting dehydrated. The effect of sun on little children is even worse.
Summer has been exceptionally hot over the past few years. Children are exposed to heat rather unnecessarily. In schools, the practice for sports day takes place in open grounds under the unrelenting sun during this season. And, during vacations, parents enroll kids in classes for football, tennis, etc., where again they are exposed to the sun. Summer is the time for vacations. Parents take children to hot vacation spots and even to arid deserts, exposing kids to heat-related illnesses.
Increased risk factors
Children are at higher risk for developing heat-related illnesses than adults because of several reasons.
- They have a higher surface area to body mass ratio.
- The temperature at which they start sweating is high. By the time they start perspiring, their core body temperature has risen.
- Their sweat rate is lower.
- They take longer to acclimatize to warmer weather.
- Children feel thirsty only after 2 to 3 per cent dehydration has set in, so thirst is not a reliable indicator for hydration.
- If a child has vomiting or loose motions, he will get dehydrated much faster.
What causes a heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a medical emergency when the core body temperature is more than 104 F/40 C. This damages different organs of the body and, at times, proves fatal.
Symptoms of heat stroke
Loss of consciousness or altered behaviour, convulsions and dry, hot skin.
How to prevent your child from getting a heat stroke?
Teach your children these simple techniques to stay safe this summer and prevent a sun stroke:
- Children should be kept well-hydrated before and during travel/exercise by giving them regular sips of water.
- Outdoor games practice sessions or competitions should be scheduled early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
- During exercise, children should drink fluids every 20 minutes. Fluid intake should be a minimum of 5 oz for 40 kg, 9 oz for 60 kg and 10 to 12 oz for over 60 kg of body weight to prevent dehydration.
- Activities happening in open grounds should be interspersed with scheduled breaks every 20–30 minutes.
- It is sufficient to drink plain water if the duration of exercise is less than 1 hour.
- If the duration of exercise and exposure to sun is more than 1 hour, fluids with electrolytes and carbohydrates must be provided.
- Proper clothing like cotton T-shirts and shorts help in heat dissipation. Avoid putting on too many clothes. Avoid tight helmets. Always cover the head with a cap when stepping out in the sun.
- Medical assistance and first aid kits should be available on an urgent, SOS basis at sports facilities.
If a child develops any of these symptoms, move the child to a cooler environment at once, cool the body with a fan, remove excess clothing, place ice over groin/axilla (underarm). Provide the child with plenty of fluids/oral rehydration solutions.
If the child vomits or develops signs of clouding of consciousness, rush the child to a nearby hospital where emergency medicines and intravenous fluids can be administered and the child can be monitored closely.
(The author is a child specialist at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai.)
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