Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Children’s Hospital.
Let’s start with what we already know:
- Being outdoors in the summer is fun AND your child will want to be out there.
- It’s the heat AND the humidity.
Take a look at the chart below showing the Heat Index (the opposite end of spectrum from wind-chill factor). Note that the New Orleans climate puts us in the medium heat risk (yellow) area of the chart (or higher) for all of June, July, August, and half of May and September. So, the time to be cautious is NOW!
Keeping Your Kids Safe in the Heat
Your tools for keeping your kids safe in the heat are hydration, rest, shade, air conditioning (or fans), and good sense. In developing your plan to beat the heat, consider these factors:
- Child’s age – During yellow chart conditions:
- Children under age 4 should drink 8 ounces of fluid about 45 minutes before they go outdoors. Don’t let them stay outdoors for longer than an hour at a time and make sure that after 30 minutes, they take a 10-minute break in the shade and drink at least 4 ounces of fluids.
- Children 5 to 10 years old can play up to two hours at a time, but they also need to take breaks every 30 minutes. Before and during play, they should drink 8–16 ounces of fluids.
- For children older than 10, fluid consumption should increase to 12–24 ounces.
- Heat index As the index reaches the upper orange and the lower red area, children need to take breaks more frequently: every 20–30 minutes, with a longer break every 60 minutes or so. Also, they should increase their fluid intake by about 25–35%.
- Child’s self-assessment Children are terrible at assessing their own state of hydration or fatigue. Do not wait for the child to say they are thirsty. Do not wait for the child to say they are tired. Stick to the rest and hydration schedule – over their protests, if necessary.
- Type of activity Frolicking in the Audubon Zoo water park causes a different amount of stress than marching around open fields in band camp. These are yet quite different from the rigors of two-a-day football practices. Respond accordingly. You parents sitting in the bleachers watching the kid’s baseball game are being exposed to heat stress, too—even if you aren’t arguing with the umpire. (PS: Beer is not a good hydration drink.)
- Heat conditioning We get better at handling heat as our bodies get more practice. This means that your year-round soccer player may tolerate the summer’s heat better than your mostly bookish child who goes outside to chase bugs. “Heat accidents” tend to be quite common in early summer because our bodies are not yet conditioned to the heat – and because we haven’t planned accordingly.
- Clothing Wear hats. Wear loose-fitting shorts and short-sleeved shirts. Choose clothing that is light in weight and color – wear the white Saints jersey and cap, not the black one.
- Medical conditions If your child has diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell (SS) disease, heart anomalies, kidney disease, or high blood pressure, stop reading this right now and call your pediatrician for a plan specifically tailored to your child. Your child’s considerations are more complex than we can address here.
You will find that your child tires a bit faster while playing outdoors. If they get very tired, or develop muscle cramps, get them into the shade and give them sips of cold fluids. Once fully recovered, they may return to play.
Should your child become dizzy, confused, or uncoordinated, immediately get the child out of the sun and into shade (preferably indoors), loosen clothing, and apply cold, moist cloths. If the child is not nauseated, give sips of cold liquids. If the child is faint, get medical attention ASAP.
Carry a small cooler in the car with you all summer. You’re always within 5 minutes of buying ice and water.
Look in the back seat whenever you leave your car. Make sure you aren’t leaving a child or dog there. If a child goes missing at home, look first in the pool, then in the car. Call 911 immediately if you see a child or dog locked in someone else’s car. I promise they will thank you.
Apply and reapply sunscreen. You’ve heard about the importance of using sunscreen, but did you know that a child with sunburn has even lower heat tolerance? This is another reason to keep sunscreen with you and to reapply as directed by instructions on the bottle.
Which fluids to give? The short answer: whatever you’ve got that’s cold and isn’t a sugary soda! There has been much discussion about the sodium and sugar content of the common sports rehydration drinks. While I wouldn’t advise drinking them every day or all day, they work just fine in this situation. Brands with lower sugar and sodium content (such as Gatorade G2 and others) might be even better. The growing popularity of coconut water prompts me to point out that it doesn’t have enough sodium to serve as a rehydration drink during intense activity, but it is great for use during “recovery” between outdoor sessions or after “last call.” It is expensive, though.
Now, go have a catch with your kids! And, remember to close the back door. Are you tryin’ to air-condition the outside, or sumptin?!
About Dr. John Firestone, Jr.
Dr. John Firestone, Jr., is a Board-certified pediatrician and allergist who has been in practice for 28 years in the metro New Orleans area. He now works with Children’s Hospital After Hours, an after-hours pediatrician-staffed facility in Metairie. For more information on After Hours, please visit our website.
Disclaimer: **The information contained in this blog post is for networking and informational purposes only, and should not be used to replace the relationship that exists between you and your child’s healthcare provider. Please contact your healthcare provider for specific medical advice and/or treatment recommendations.**