As the weather heats up, so can your kids. Many parents are aware of the dangers of leaving young children alone in a car seat in a hot, parked car for even a few minutes — the result can be fatal. But parents and coaches might not realize that hot weather can severely affect older children and teens when they’re outside exercising or playing sports, especially on artificial turf.
Young children are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses
Young children don’t realize they’re thirsty, or they need help to get water, get in the shade, or get out of a hot car and indoors, said Jessica Strong, community health manager, Primary Children’s Hospital.
“Children younger than nine years old are especially susceptible to heat-related illnesses because they have an impaired ability to sweat and their body surface-to-weight ratio is higher than for adults.”
Strong offers the following tips for parents to help children avoid heat-related illnesses.
Tips to keep kids from overheating
Most healthy children can exercise and do sports safely, even when it’s hot. Just keep these things in mind:
- Start exercising for two weeks before the sports season or hot weather starts
- Cool water is best for staying hydrated
- In hot weather, a child can sweat one to two cups per hour. Teens playing strenuous sports can lose one to two quarts of sweat per hour. These amounts need to be replenished by drinking frequently
- Send your child to sports practice with a thermos full of ice water that’s large enough for their age, size, and the length of time they’ll be exercising. A quart may be enough for young children, but teens may need two quarts or more
- If kids are exercising more than two hours, sports drinks can help replace electrolytes and salts. Look for low-calorie versions
- Provide easy access to water, and encourage children to drink every 10-15 minutes during play, practices, and games
Symptoms and treatment of heat-related illnesses
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are three types of heat-related illnesses:
Most mild: Heat cramps
- Symptoms are muscle cramps in the legs, and feel uncomfortable.
- This happens when children lose too much salt and water, and their body temperature is normal. Heat cramps are treated by resting, drinking fluids containing salts, and stretching.
More serious: Heat exhaustion
- Body temperature higher than normal.
- Dehydrated, but still able to sweat
- Thirsty, dizzy, nauseous, faint or start getting a headache
To treat heat exhaustion in children:
- Get in shade or in air-conditioning
- Drink cool water or sports drinks if they’re conscious and can swallow
- Lie down with feet up
- Remove some clothing/sports equipment and fan them
- Take the child to a hospital emergency department if they don’t improve or can’t drink
Very serious = Heatstroke
- Very high body temperature, skin will be flushed, hot, and dry.
- Severely dehydrated, unable to sweat
- Confused or mentally unclear
- Feel faint
- Circulation is diminished.
- Cell damage, organ damage is occurring
If a child reaches this point, they require immediate medical attention.
- Call 911
- Immediately, start cooling the person off in the shade or air conditioning until medical help arrives
- Remove some clothing
- Spray them lightly with water
- Fan the person
- Put ice packs under the armpits
- Rotate ice-water soaked towels on the rest of the body
SOURCE: Exercise-Related Heat Illness (Care of the Young Athlete)
How coaches can help reduce chances of heat-related illnesses
Modify practices or games to allow for water breaks, especially when kids are playing in hot, humid weather or on artificial turf, which can be 35° to 55° F hotter than natural grass according to a study at Brigham Young University.
Schedule games during cooler times of the day, add recovery time between games, change the venue from artificial turf to natural turf, or even cancel games due to extreme heat.
When the temperature of artificial turf reaches 122º F, it takes less than 10 minutes to cause injury to skin.
Utah’s dry, summer weather may have just the right conditions to make artificial turf especially hot. According to a Penn State study, artificial turf surfaces are hottest between noon and 3 p.m. when it’s sunny, cloudless, and there’s low humidity.