Summer tips: heat and humidity

Last week’s steamy weather reminded me of a hiking trip our family took last summer. Shortly after noon on a blisteringly hot, windless, and humid July day, we pulled into a trailhead parking lot for an overnight hut hike we’d planned for months. We started sweating as soon as we stepped out of the car, and Virgil started complaining almost as quickly. He complained about the heat, sweat in his eyes, and how uncomfortable his small, very light pack felt against his back.

I was eager to get to the hut and didn’t want to deal with a whining child. It took more energy than I had, in the heat and humidity, to jolly Virgil along. I wanted to ignore him, and if I couldn’t ignore him, I wanted to yell at him. We kept him going for a while, but he seemed to deflate with each step, until he was hardly moving. We took a break. I noticed his bright red face. He shrugged off his pack and out of his shirt and lay down on a rock, listless. It wasn’t until I saw the raised red bumps on his neck and under his arms, though, that I got it: He was truly suffering in the heat.

Those red bumps were a heat rash. Virgil’s red face, and the fact that he wasn’t sweating, meant that his body was struggling to cool itself down. If we’d taken his temperature, it might have seemed that he had a slight fever. And if we hadn’t stopped right there, he might have developed heat stroke.

Heat stroke occurs when a person doesn’t sweat enough to lower his or her body temperature. It’s the most severe heat-related ailment and a life-threatening emergency. A child’s body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s, making children more vulnerable to heat stroke than adults. A child, as we were seeing with Virgil, can become dangerously overheated in only a few short minutes.

Virgil needed to drink to replenish his body’s ability to sweat. Out came our water bottles. Even before he’d had his fill of water, we soaked his shirt and put it back on him to cool his skin and soothe the itchy rash. We started up again, but at a much slower pace, resting often and drinking even more often. Virgil’s energy eventually returned, he stopped whining, and we made it to the hut in good shape.

A child with heat stroke may have any of the following symptoms:
- temperature of 103 degrees F or higher, not accompanied by sweating
- hot, red, dry skin
- rapid pulse
- restlessness, confusion, or dizziness
- headache
- vomiting
- rapid, shallow breathing
- lethargy

To prevent heat stroke and its milder form, heat exhaustion:
- Let children slowly acclimate to hot temperatures over several days or even weeks
- Make sure children drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after physical exercise, Drinks with caffeine, carbonation, or a lot of sugar are much less effective than water at replenishing the body’s fluids and should be avoided. Many sports drinks fall into this category. Dehydration contributes to heat stroke.
- Avoid sunburn, which interferes with a body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids
- Give children frequent breaks to cool down
- Dress them in lightweight and loose-fitting clothing
- Schedule activity for cooler times of day
- Bring children into the shade or into an air-conditioned space
- Give children cool baths

Heat stroke requires immediate medical treatment. If a child develops heat stroke, you need to bring his or her internal temperature down as quickly as possible.
- Call 911.
- Undress the child and if possible move him or her into a cool room.
- Sponge the child’s body with a washcloth and fan the damp skin.
- Apply ice packs to the groin and armpits.
- Give the child cool fluids only if he or she is alert and able to drink.
- Don’t attempt to treat the high temperature with a fever-reducer such as Tylenol.
- Never leave a child in a parked car. Heat stroke can occur within minutes in a car; the temperature inside a car can quickly climb 10 to 20 degrees higher than the temperature outside.

It may be hard to believe that it’s going to be hot again. But before long, we’ll have those hot, steamy days of high summer. I’m actually looking forward to them.

Learn more
- Information on heat stroke from the Centers for Disease Control
- Heat-related illnesses and children

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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