Pediatric HealthSource

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Q: I have a very energetic 5-year-old who can't wait to spend all his time outside this summer. I'm well aware of sunscreen rules, how to take care of bug bites, minor injuries, etc. but I'm less familiar with dehydration and heat stroke. My son would never quit playing to tell me that he's thirsty or tired. What should I be paying attention to?

A: There are varying degrees of heat-related illness ranging from dehydration to heat stroke. It is important to recognize the signs early to prevent serious illness.

A child's skin may become warm, flushed and sweaty - in severe cases, it may be dry. A child's mouth may also become dry and sticky. Watch for behavioral changes such as fatigue, irritability or poor judgment. Some children may experience nausea and vomiting.

When it comes to heat-related illness, it's not only the high temperatures that matter. Humidity can cause sweat to evaporate more slowly, making it more difficult to release heat.

Kids have a higher metabolic rate than adults, which means they produce more heat from their bodies. They also have a smaller volume of blood, limiting their ability to dissipate heat. Kids also sweat less (which helps to cool the body down) and are less likely to drink adequate amounts of fluid when needed.

Try to schedule activities during the coolest parts of the day (early morning or late afternoon/evening) and be sure to schedule breaks every 10 to 15 minutes during an activity that lasts longer than 1 hour.

Have your son drink plenty of fluids before, during and after each activity. It's also important for children, especially athletes, to eat a balanced diet that provides necessary vitamins and minerals.

If your son begins to exhibit signs of trouble, you need to act quickly. Move him into the shade or indoors if possible and wrap him in a cool, wet sheet. Call your primary care physician immediately and when in doubt, do not hesitate to call 911.

-Dr. Elizabeth Zmuda works in the Department of Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care at Nationwide Children's Hospital.