Kids look forward to summer fun in the sun. But especially here in Austin, where the average high in July is 96° F, we need to take steps to protect our children from heat-related illness.

“Children can develop heat-related illness, especially during the first few weeks of extreme heat in the summer when they haven’t had time to acclimate to the heat,” says Dr. Jill Nichols, an Austin pediatrician.

Hotter Than You Think

The thermometer temp can be misleading. Heat affects 
the body more as moisture (humidity) in the air increases. Here’s why:

When our bodies get hot, we sweat. As sweat evaporates, 
it cools us down. When the temperature is high and humidity is low, sweat can evaporate and cool us quickly. But when temps and humidity are both high, sweat can’t evaporate as fast. This is when it’s easy for your child to overheat.

This combination of temperature and humidity is called the heat index, and the higher the humidity on hot days, the more cautious you should be. If your child is playing in full sun, add 15° F to the heat index.

Plan Ahead for Safety

Dr. Nichols stresses the importance of planning ahead to stay heat-safe. “If your child is going to a camp where he will be active in the heat, find out exactly what he will be doing ahead of time. Make sure the staff is familiar with heat-related illness and how to prevent and manage it.”

Children or teens playing sports during hot months need to prepare. “Ease into high levels of physical activity,” says Dr. Nichols. “A high school athlete who doesn’t exercise at all in June or July and then goes to football training camp in August will be at increased risk of heat-related illness.”

Know if the medicines your child takes can interfere with the body’s response to heat. Some of these are antidepressants and antihistamines. Consult your pediatrician or pharmacist.

Heat Safety Checklist

Do This And Remember This
Drink Fluids •    Stay hydrated and drink before you feel thirsty. Encourage infants and children to 
drink often.

•    Don’t offer liquids that contain a lot of sugar—they don’t help and can be dehydrating.

Drink Enough Before, During and After Exercise ▪    Children ages 9 to 12 should drink about 3 to 8 oz. every 20 minutes during exercise.

▪    Teens should drink about 34 to 50 oz. per hour during exercise.

▪    Avoid very cold liquids; they can cause stomach cramps.

Exercise in the Cooler Parts of the Day ▪    Limit outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

▪    Shorten exercise or practice sessions.

▪    Take frequent and longer breaks.

Use Caution With Exercise in Children Who Are Ill, Recovering from Illness, Overweight or Have Medical Conditions ▪    Children who are ill or are recovering from illness should avoid or limit exercise and sports.

▪    Children who are overweight or who have medical conditions, such as diabetes, may become overheated more easily.

Wear Light-Weight, Light-Colored, Loose-Fitting Clothing ▪    Dark clothing absorbs heat.

▪    Choose breathable fabrics, if possible.

▪    Dress appropriately for the temperature.

Never Leave a Child in a Parked Car ▪    Temperatures inside a parked car can rise very quickly: 20° in 10 minutes or less, according to Travis County EMS.

▪    Even if you plan on being gone just a few minutes, take your child with you.

▪    Make it a habit to “look before you lock!”

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Academy of Pediatrics

Signs of Heat-Related Illness

If someone becomes overheated, it is important to recognize the problem right away and get help. Overheating can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can be fatal.

Sometimes heat cramps are the first sign. Other signs are:

  • Struggling to continue the activity
  • Negative changes in behavior or thinking
  • Confusion
  • Cold, pale and clammy skin or hot, red, dry or moist skin
  • Feeling really tired or weak
  • Nausea, dizziness and headache
  • Fainting
  • Vomiting

Heat Index Chart

40% 101 Extreme Caution
50% 108 Danger
60% 116 Danger
70% 126 Extreme Danger
75% 132 Extreme Danger

Source: National Weather Service (NOAA)


What to Do

If someone becomes sick from the heat, act quickly:

  • Get help from someone who is trained in first aid or medical care or call 9-1-1.
  • Move the person to the shade or an air-conditioned place.
  • Have the person lie down.
  • Remove extra clothing and 
protective gear.
  • Cool the person quickly using cool—
but never icy—water. Use a tub, spray bottle, hose or cool, wet cloths placed on as much of the body as possible.
  • Give the person sips of water.

Source: Travis County EMS


Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer in Austin.

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