Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Offers Heat Wave Safety Tips for Children


With July 2012 on record as being one of the hottest months in US history and the August heat showing no let up in many parts of the country, how can parents protect their children’s health during a heat wave? “While kids and teens may think of themselves as invincible, they’re prone to heat-related illnesses,” says Megan Summers, a registered nurse in the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Rehabilitation Unit. “With summer temperatures rising, it’s appropriate to talk about common heat-related illnesses and ways to keep your kids and teens safe in the heat,” she says.

To better inform parents on the symptoms and remedies of heat-related illnesses in children, Summers and Nager have identified signs of heat-related illnesses and provide recommendations on important do’s and don’ts when temperatures soar.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that heat stroke is one of the common causes of exercise-related death in high school students in the United States. “Heat-related illness is more common than one may believe,” says Alan Nager, MD, MHA, director of Emergency and Transport Medicine of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

What are the Three Main Categories of Heat-Related Illness?

As a parent or guardian, it’s important to recognize when heat-related illnesses affect your child and how to effectively treat it.

1. Heat Cramps/Edema/Syncope – These are the mildest of the three heat-related illnesses. Heat cramps are common in children and young athletes. Common symptoms are muscle pain, tightness and spasms. Heat Edema – This is usually the result of being unaccustomed to hot/humid temperatures. Common symptoms are swelling of the hands and feet. Heat Syncope – This results from overheating, and having a low intake of water and salt. Symptoms include pale skin, fatigue, light-headedness and fainting.

2. Heat Exhaustion – This is severe and is a result of water and salt loss from the body from excessive sweating. Heat exhaustion occurs in conditions of extreme heat without adequate fluid and salt replacement. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can develop into heat stroke. Common symptoms are extreme tiredness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, rapid pulse, pale or flushed skin and profuse sweating. Treatment includes the administration of cool liquids, use of fans, cooler or cold environment.

3. Heat Stroke – This is extremely serious. It occurs when the body’s temperature rises rapidly to an excessively high degree and the body is unable to cool down. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and requires IMMEDIATE medical attention. Common symptoms are body temperature higher than 104 degrees, low blood pressure, disorientation, loss of consciousness, seizures. Treatment includes care in an emergency department. Care given will include ice packs, intravenous fluids, lab testing and transfer usually to a critical care unit.

What You Should Do When Heat-Related Illness Strikes

Whether you’re witnessing heat cramps or heat stroke, you should ALWAYS:

  • >>Remove your child from the activity they are playing
  • >>Get out of direct sunlight
  • >>Give your child plenty of water or liquid with electrolytes such as a sports drink


Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has put out a simple guide to recognize symptoms and remedies for each level of heat-related illness. This is a good flyer to post on your refrigerator or family bulletin board. Why not send it to friends and family too!

Why are Children and Teens Vulnerable?

Children and teens are busy and may not be able to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness. Children don’t realize they need rest breaks or drink enough fluids. Additionally, infants and young children must rely on other people to pace their activity and keep them cool and hydrated.

Teens, especially young athletes may think they can “push through” the heat and ignore symptoms. Educating children and teens about the importance of adequate and proper hydration, as well as the dangers of heat-related illness, is critical in reducing the risk of heat injury.

Heat-Related Illness Prevention Tips

Important tips – while staying in-doors if it’s extremely hot outside is easier said than done, keep these tips in mind to protect your child:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more and apply this every hour. For more information on sunscreen safety and the FDA’s new regulations that come into effect this year see my previous blog post, “Sunscreen Safety: Understanding the FDA’s New Regulations”
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, such as water or an electrolyte enhanced drink like Gatorade.
  • Your child should drink fluids every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Avoid fluids containing caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol actually make you more dehydrated and susceptible to heat-related illness.
  • Plan your activities around cooler times of the day, for example before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
  • Take frequent rest breaks in a cool and shady area.
  • For older children and teens, use a “buddy system” to keep an eye on each other. Take rest breaks and drink enough fluids.
  • If you or your child is taking prescription medication or has a chronic condition, please consult with the physician regarding outdoor activity.
  • Restrict car trips to the earlier and later part of a hot day. “Cars with no or poor air conditioning can be saunas,” Nager says.

“Hopefully, this information helps you feel more prepared to be outdoors and how to handle heat-related illnesses if it occurs,” says Summers. “Now go have fun and enjoy the summer!”

For printable copies of the heat exhaustion symptoms and remedies flyer and additional information from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, go