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Dangerous heat risks - dehydration, heat exhaustion

Posted Jul 23 2010 12:00am

LoyolaMedicine.org - Scorching heat has taken its toll across the country this summer with record temperatures and heat indexes reaching well above 100 degrees in some areas. Add kids playing outside and outdoor summer activities in full swing to the dangerous heat you’ve got a hazardous combination.

“It’s always important to keep your kids hydrated, but when you’re dealing with this kind of heat it can be especially dangerous. Dehydration puts kids at risk for heat related illnesses like heat stroke. They can suffer from rhabdomyolysis, which is when their muscles break down and this process leads to kidney failure and damaged muscle cells from crystals in the urine,” said Sean Cahill, MD, associate professor in the department of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, who offers the following tips.

Child Hydration Tips

1. Be prepared. Don’t count on buying water at your destination or using drinking fountains as you see them. Always pack water for outside activities. Get a stainless steel, environmentally friendly water bottle and keep it filled and with you at all times.

2. Hound your kids to drink water. Kids need to drink water to stay hydrated, not juice, not soda, not milk. One strategy is to withhold the treats they want until they drink the water their bodies need.

3. Limit outside activity in the heat of the day. Try to avoid having your kids running and playing outside during the hottest time of day, which is usually in the mid to late afternoon.

4. Lots of water breaks. Interrupt your kids’ playtime periodically for water breaks and lather some sunscreen on them while you’re at it.

“I do this with my own kids. If they don’t drink two big gulps of water during the water break they can’t go back to playing,” said Cahill.

According to Cahill infants are often at great risk for dehydration since they can’t obtain the water they need on their own.

“Really push the fluids. Start giving your child water between 6-9 months so they get used to the concept of drinking water,” said Cahill. “As a parent we need to be on the lookout for dehydration. Kids get so caught up in what they are doing that they don’t stop for a drink of water. All they want to do is get back out there and play. It’s our job to make sure they’re hydrated.”

With such extreme temperatures dehydration can happen quickly so watch your kids for signs that they’re not getting enough fluid.

1. Crying but not making tears.

2. Sunken eyes.

3. Tenting of the skin. Test for this by pinching the skin on the back of the hand and releasing quickly. If it takes time for your skin to return to normal you might be dehydrated.

4. Decreased urine output.

“Your child should urinate at least four times a day. The urine should be clear. If it is yellow and smells very strong this could be a sign your child is not drinking enough,” said Cahill.

Also, for older adults and people of all ages, be aware of the following symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms:

* Clammy, cool skin
* Dry mouth
* Dizziness
* Fatigue
* Weakness
* Headache
* Nausea
* Cramps
* Weak and rapid pulse.

Heat Stroke Symptoms include:

* Hot, dry skin
* Elevated body temperature
* Confusion
* Unconsciousness or convulsions

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