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Summer Safety for You and Your Kids

Heat Illness continued...

"When I got there, Abe's face was blotchy and I kept calling his name, but he couldn't answer me," she says. Jaurena cooled Abe down until emergency workers arrived and he was treated for dehydration at the hospital.

Normally, the brain’s thermostat regulates body temperature by increasing blood flow to the skin and sweating. During heat illness, the body's cooling system malfunctions, and core body temperature goes up. Mild symptoms of heat exhaustion include thirst, fatigue, and cramps in the legs or abdomen. Left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. Serious heat-related symptoms include dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, decreased alertness, and a temperature as high as 107o F. In severe cases, the liver, kidneys, and brain may be damaged as proteins in the body break down. About 400 people die each year from heat stroke, according to the CDC.

The risk of heat illness goes up during exertion and sports and with certain health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Alcohol use also increases the risk. So do medications that slow sweat production such as antihistamines.

Young children are especially vulnerable to heat illness. During the summer of 2003, at least 42 children in the U.S. died after being left in hot cars. What some people don't realize is that the temperature inside a car can climb much higher than temperatures outside during a sunny day. Heat stroke in children can occur within minutes, even if a car window is opened slightly. The same is true for pets.

Heat illness prevention and treatment

Air conditioning is the No. 1 protective factor against heat illness. If you don't have air conditioning, spend time in public facilities, such as libraries and malls, that have air conditioning. Fans can help too although less than air conditioning.

Reduce strenuous activities or do them during early mornings and evenings when it's cooler. If you're outside for long stretches of time, carry a water bottle, drink fluids regularly, and don't push your limits. People who play sports should wear light, loose fitting clothes and drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after activity. For example, a 90 pound child needs to drink about 6 ounces every 15 minutes during warm weather exercise. Cold water and sports drinks are good for hydration, but avoid soda and juices. If you see someone showing signs of heat illness, have the person lie down in a cool place and elevate the legs. Use water, wet towels, and fanning to help cool the person down until emergency help comes.

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