With the scorching sun beating down on India, it is imperative that parents take the right precautions to keep their children safe from heat-related ailments. The three heat-related conditions to watch out for, from mild to severe, are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Our bodies need to maintain an internal temperature of 98.6 °F (37 °C). When the temperature outside is more than that, or warm weather combined with physical activity, then the internal temperature can rise higher. The principal way that the body copes and tries to cool itself down is by sweating. If it is too hot, very humid or a person has been too active, then the body may not be able to cool itself enough, which can lead to heat ailments.
Heat Cramps: Cramps are mildest form of heat-related illness. A cramp is when a muscle spasms or tightens up and the person is not able to relax it. Usually it will be a muscle that was being used during the activity, such as in the legs, arms, abdomen or the back. When a cramp occurs it is a sign to slow down or stop the activity, cool down, and drink clear fluids with electrolytes. Salty lemon water or lime soda and a banana are good ways to get some sodium, chloride and potassium. Coconut water is also a great source.
Heat Exhaustion: If the effect of the heat is stronger, it may lead to heat exhaustion. Signs of heat exhaustion are:
- Skin that feels cool, moist and has goosebumps even in the heat
- Heavy sweating
- Extreme tiredness or weakness
- Any or all of the following: headache, dizziness, nausea
- A rapid heartbeat but a light pulse
- Muscle cramps (children may not be able to tell this but may complain of legs aching, for example)
If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, proper care and treatment should prevent it from becoming life-threatening. The person needs to cool down and drink fluids.
Here are a few suggestions for cooling down: go to a cool place, preferably where there is AC; sit or lie down in front of a fan and dampen the skin with a wet cloth; while resting, keep the feet higher than the heart; take a cold shower or if possible sit in a cold water bath; remove as much clothing as possible and make sure whatever is worn is loose and lightweight.
It is also very important to replace the water lost from sweating and exertion. Make the person drink plenty of fluids, but mostly those which are clear in color, such as water, fruit juices, coconut water or decaffeinated tea. Coffee or regular tea with caffeine, cola drinks and milk are not recommended. If the person wants to eat, give him or her cold food, especially fruits or vegetables with high water content, such as watermelon, mango, cucumber. A banana can also provide potassium, a necessary element for proper body functioning.
Heat stroke: When the body is just not able to cool down and the internal temperature reaches 104 °F (40 °C) or more, the person may be suffering from a heatstroke and needs immediate medical care. If possible, get him or her to a hospital emergency room immediately. The symptoms of heatstroke are similar to heat exhaustion, but more severe:
- High body temperature: if the person has a body temperature of 104 °F (40 °C) or more;
- not being able to think or speak clearly, being very irritated or agitated;
- a very fast heartbeat
- rapid, shallow breathing
- headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting
While waiting for medical care, cool the person down with any means possible: a shower, getting into water, water mist while in front of a fan, ice placed on the person’s head, neck, armpits or groin.
If children need to be out, whether to go somewhere or just to play, keeping some ground rules in place with your children can go a long way in preventing heat-related diseases.
- Give them plenty of water to drink in order to remain hydrated;
- Dress them in the appropriate clothing
- Avoid the hottest parts of the day or being out in direct sunlight;
- If they are going into direct sunlight, sunscreen can help prevent sunburn, which increases the risk of heat exhaustion
The bodies of infants and children under 4 may not fully develop the ability to regulate heat by sweating, so parents must remain especially watchful that they are not overheating. Illness, medical conditions or certain medications may also expose adults, especially those over 65, to higher risk of heat-related illnesses. Check with a doctor about any medications.
Finally, children should never be left alone in a car, even with the windows open, nor should they be allowed to get in. It takes just 10 minutes for the temperature to increase by 20 °F (11 °C) inside a car parked in the heat, and in a short while the temperature inside can reach 130 °F (54 °C) or more. The temperature builds up even when the car is not directly in the sun.
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