Heat Illness in Children
Camping First Aid and Safety

Top Tips for Heat Illness In Children when Camping

Heat illness in children is relatively common BECAUSE our kids are not that great at removing heat. The risks for sustaining a heat illness get even greater if your child is spending lots of time outdoors – like when you’re camping.

What’s that mean? Our kids aren’t great sweaters. Have you ever played outside with your kids and came inside completely soaked with sweat, and they’re barely glistening?

It’s not because they’re in ‘better shape’ than you. It’s because their little bodies are not good at heat exchange. Sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism: we sweat, the sweat evaporates, we cool down. It’s a pretty efficient system!

Where this can be problematic for our kids (and the elderly population too). Their bodies are not as efficient at cooling down. This means they’re more susceptible to heat illnesses.

Combine that with their unwavering desire to always be the fastest and the need to play at 150% all the time; they’re little hot boxes heading for disaster.

Heat Illness in Children

Good news though! Heat illness in children is entirely preventable AND easy to treat if you catch the signs early.

The most common form of heat illness in children is heat exhaustion. I know you’re all thinking of the worst case scenario, and yes, heat stroke is possible in kids, but it’s not nearly as common as heat exhaustion.

I’m going to explain what each one is, what the signs and symptoms are, and what to do about it.

Heat Exhaustion

What it is

  • Heat exhaustion is sudden, extreme fatigue during physical activity typically caused by dehydration.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Core temperature of 102-103 degrees
  • Skin will be cool and pale
  • LOTS of sweating
  • Fast breathing or having a hard time catching their breath
  • Dizziness
  • Tired
  • Could also have
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Thirsty
  • Decreased appetite

What to do

  • Go indoors or find a cool place
  • Rest
  • Place ice packs on the back of the neck, under the armpits, and behind the knees
  • Give fluids
    • What to give?
      • If the child is not complaining of thirst, they need salt. Give them Pedialyte or a sports drink
      • If the child is complaining of thirst, give water

Heat Stroke

What it is

  • Heat stroke is a medical emergency and means that the body’s system for regulating its temperature is shutting down. You must act quickly.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Core temperature above 104 degrees
  • Skin is hot and red
  • Sweating a little or a lot
  • The skin may be wet or dry
  • Difficulty breathing or hyperventilating
  • Dizzy
  • Drowsy
  • Confused or disoriented
  • Violent
  • Overly emotional
  • May notice dilated pupils
  • Could also have
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

What to do

  • Before you do ANYTHING ELSE, you MUST CALL 911.
    • You want to call them first so they can get to you faster. If you wait until the child is indoors, etc. you’ve delayed EMS.
  • Begin to cool the child RAPIDLY
    • You need to get the body’s core temperature down as FAST as possible.
    • This might mean:
      • air conditioning
      • removing clothes
      • covering with ice bags

You might be thinking ‘heat exhaustion, and heat stroke seems pretty darn similar.’ You’re right. They’re very similar. The big difference between the two is the child’s mental state.

With heat stroke, you may notice behavior extremes followed by unconsciousness. Whereas with heat exhaustion, you will not see any drastic changes in mood or behavior.

If heat illness in children seems scary, don’t worry, most of the time it’s preventable! And, the best part, most of this stuff is simple.

Four keys to heat illness prevention when camping

Hydration and Nutrition

Make sure that your child is eating and drinking enough throughout the day. In the summer we like to eat lots of fruits and veggies because they’re in season, but also because these foods have higher water contents. Frozen grapes and watermelon are two crowd pleasers here!

Stay Indoors

Stay inside during the hottest parts of the day when you can. So indoor activities (nature centers, movies, etc) or even having rest time at your campsite are two great options during the hottest part of the day.

Wear Light Clothing

The lighter the clothing, the better it will help the sweat evaporate (the body’s way to cool itself).

Rest!

If you’re planning a long day at an amusement park, periodically take refuge on a slow, long ride or go inside and catch a fun show. Same goes for festivals or other outdoor adventures! Seek out cooler places every so often to give yourself (and your little one) a break.

Wrapping It Up

Heat illnesses are very common in children, so it’s important to know the signs, symptoms, and treatment. But most of all, we have to know how to prevent heat illness in children. Prevention is key.

I do want to mention; heat illnesses are not always progressive. So, a child could have a heat stroke without first having heat exhaustion. That’s why it’s so important to practice prevention and know the signs and symptoms!

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