What To Know About Heat Exhaustion In Kids, Including Why They're More Susceptible

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
heat exhaustion in kids, Baby splashing in outdoor tub

Being a kid can be a sweaty job. When it’s warm outside, you want to be out there playing with your friends and may not think about things like taking a break, staying in the shade, or drinking enough water. While those are important year-round, they’re especially crucial in warmer weather when kids can get heat exhaustion or heat stroke. And it’s not only children: babies can get heat stroke, too. Here’s what to know about heat exhaustion in kids and babies, including the symptoms and why children are more susceptible to heat stroke.

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How do I know if my child has heat exhaustion?

Normally kids’ bodies are pretty good at keeping them cool. But on days when it’s scorching and/or humid, their natural cooling system (including sweating) isn’t enough to deal with the heat. That can result in heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke in kids and babies. Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are prompted by hot weather and not drinking enough fluids. Still, heat stroke is more serious because it entails a high temperature — going as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit — and could lead to brain damage or even death, according to KidsHealth. If left unchecked, heat exhaustion could turn into heat stroke.

According to Children’s Medical Center Dallas, heat exhaustion in kids can include:

  • An elevated body temperature, usually less than 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Cool, clammy skin despite the heat
  • Goosebumps
  • Fainting, dizziness, or weakness
  • Headache
  • Increased sweating
  • Increased thirst
  • Irritability
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Meanwhile, the symptoms of heat stroke in children may include:

  • A body temperature that rises dangerously high — above 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Absence of sweating
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Flushed, hot, and dry skin (skin may be wet)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing
  • Severe headache
  • Seizures
  • Weakness and/or dizziness

Though it is rare for babies to get heat exhaustion or heat stroke, it is possible — and dangerous. It most commonly occurs when a baby is outside for extended periods of time in the heat and/or is riding or left in a parked car (obviously, do not leave your baby or child in a parked car in the heat, ever). According to Children’s Medical Center Dallas, the symptoms of heat stroke in babies can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting

How is heat exhaustion treated in children?

If your child has symptoms of heat exhaustion, KidsHealth recommends doing the following:

  • Bring your child to a cooler place indoors, an air-conditioned car, or a shady area.
  • Remove your child’s excess clothing.
  • Encourage your child to drink water or cool fluids containing salt and sugar, such as sports drinks.
  • Put a cool, wet cloth or cool water on your child’s skin.
  • Call your doctor for advice. A child who is too exhausted or ill to drink might need treatment with intravenous (IV) fluids.

If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it could develop into heat stroke. If that occurs, your child needs emergency medical attention. While you’re waiting for help to arrive or to get to the hospital, KidsHealth recommends doing the following:

  • Get your child indoors or into the shade.
  • Undress your child and sponge or douse him or her with cool water.
  • Do not give fluids unless your child is awake, alert, and acting normally.

Why are children more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

There are several reasons children are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke than otherwise healthy adults. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, these include:

  • Children and adolescents don’t adjust as quickly as adults to changes in environmental heat
  • Children also produce more heat with activity than adults and sweat less
  • Kids may forget about hydrating or coming in after being in the sun for a long time

Basically, it comes down to keeping an eye on your kids when they’re playing outside in warm weather and making sure they’re wearing sunscreen, drinking plenty of fluids, taking breaks, and staying in the shade as much as possible.

What is SPD?

Does your child get overheated easily? Sometimes the culprit is sensory processing disorder, which is also known as SPD. This condition prevents your brain from receiving information from your senses or responding to external stimuli. As a result, this may cause a child to overheat quickly because they won’t sweat or show signs they’re hot for a while or not at all.

What should my child eat after heat exhaustion?

After experiencing heat exhaustion, your kiddos may lose nutrients from being dehydrated. Once they’ve cooled off, fill them up with more than just water. Your child will need snacks and meals loaded with electrolytes, carbohydrates, and potassium. This will give them the energy boost they need to feel better and get back on your feet. Helpful foods include:

  • Artichokes
  • Salted crackers or pretzels
  • Cucumbers
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Spinach

What should you not eat in hot weather to prevent heat exhaustion?

Help your kids avoid heat exhaustion by avoiding diuretic foods. These are foods that cause you to urinate and expel water from your body. Foods like this include tea, soda, mangoes, asparagus, pomegranate, and pistachios. Keep away from these foods during hot days to help minimize the risk of heat exhaustion.

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