BHealthy Blog

What You Need to Know About Heat-Related Illnesses

It has been really hot here in Arkansas for the last couple of weeks and many of us don’t really consider how quickly too much heat and not enough hydration can make us really ill.

Unfortunately, many kids are in this heat playing soccer or baseball, and now football practices are gearing up.

Exposure to abnormal or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without relief or adequate fluid intake can cause various types of heat-related illness. Children and adolescents adjust more slowly than adults do to changes in environmental heat. They also produce more heat with activity than adults, and sweat less. Sweating is one of the body’s normal cooling mechanisms. Children and adolescents often do not think to rest when having fun and may not drink enough fluids when playing, exercising, or participating in sports.

Children and adolescents with chronic health problems, or those who take certain medicines, may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Those who are overweight or wear heavy clothing during exertion, such as marching band or football uniforms, are also more susceptible.

There are three types of heat-related illnesses:

  • heat cramps
  • heat exhaustion
  • heat stroke

What are heat cramps?

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat injury and consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. It is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

How can heat stroke be prevented?

Some general guidelines to help protect your adolescent from heat-related illnesses include the following:

  • Drink plenty of fluids during vigorous or outdoor activities (including sunbathing), especially on hot days. Drinks of choice include water and sports drinks; avoid fluids with caffeine such as tea, coffee, and cola, as these can lead to dehydration.
  • Make sure your adolescent dresses in light colored, lightweight, tightly-woven, loose-fitting clothing on hot days.
  • Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day. Take rest periods in shady or cool areas.
  • Make sure your adolescent is protected from the sun and wears a hat and sunglasses, and uses an umbrella. Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF (sun protection factor) 15.
  • Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your adolescent’s body used to the heat.
  • Teach adolescents to take frequent drink breaks and “wet down” or mist themselves with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated.
  • Try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
  • Teach your adolescent to warm-up and cool-down before and after exercising.
  • If your adolescent has a medical condition or is taking medication, consult your adolescent’s physician for further advice for preventing heat-related illnesses.

It’s just as important for adults to take care of themselves when exposed to the sweltering Arkansas summers. So stay cool and check out the health library on our website for more information on each of these conditions.

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