When the weather is conducive, playing and exercising outside is incredibly beneficial to children’s physical and mental wellbeing. High temperatures and heat can make children sick very quickly for a variety of reasons. Dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke are the adverse effects. Extreme heat can annoy both children and their caregivers. As a result of climate change, excessive heat is becoming more common, inducing “eco-anxiety” or emotional anguish.
To keep your child as cool as possible, keep an eye out for any worrying symptoms and contact your paediatrician if any appear. During hot weather, babies and small children should be closely monitored. Perspiring causes them to lose body fluids quickly, which can lead to dehydration. They must drink frequently, dress in light clothing, and remain cool. Babies and young toddlers may not display signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion until they become very sick. They may look more ill or irritable than normal. Babies may appear floppy, have dry skin, refuse to drink or have fewer wet diapers than usual. The fontanelle (the soft region on top of a baby’s head) may be lower than normal as well.
Are there any warning signs or symptoms to look out for?
If your child gets any of the following symptoms, contact your paediatrician right away:
Extreme exhaustion (eg, unusually sleepy, drowsy, or hard to arouse)
Decreased urination and burning micturition
Numbness or tingling of the skin
Spasms of the muscles
What precautions can be taken?
There are various ways to help combat the heat and protect your child from heat-related diseases and risks:
Keep your children hydrated: Encourage them to drink water regularly and having it easily available—even before they ask for it. If you’re going out, carry some water bottles. On hot days, infants who are breastfeeding should be fed more frequently, but not water, especially during the first six months of life. Formula-fed babies can be given additional formula.
Sunscreen is a necessity: It is suggested that children above the age of six months use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapply every two hours. Children under the age of six months should not be exposed to the sun and should be kept in the shade at all times. Be aware that while sunscreen will protect your child from harmful UV rays, it will not protect them from the heat.
Dress your children in light clothing: Opt for light-coloured, lightweight clothing with only one layer of absorbent material to allow sweat to evaporate as quickly as possible. Sweating capacity in children is lower than in adults. Make sure you have plenty of sunscreen on hand.
Make extra rest time a priority: Heat can make youngsters (and their parents) fatigued. High temperatures might not only make individuals sleepy, but they can also make them irritable. Come inside to cool yourself, rest, and drink water frequently.
Keep your child cool: If your child’s body temperature is high, give him or her a cool bath or a water spray to relieve the heat. Swimming is another fantastic way to stay active and cool down. To avoid drowning, children should always be supervised while swimming or playing in water.
Never leave your child in a car: Even with the windows open, the inside of a car can become dangerously hot in a short amount of time.
Certain medications can increase your child’s sensitivity to the sun, increasing his or her risk of heatstroke. If your child is on any such medicine, talk to your paediatrician and pharmacist to see if there are any other precautions you should take.
In hot temperatures, sick newborns and children require extra attention. Even with minor illnesses like colds or gastroenteritis, newborns and little children require special attention. These disorders frequently cause a minor increase in temperature on their own, but this can lead to dehydration in hot weather.
If your infant is sick, you should nurse frequently and drink plenty of fluids. Try frequent lukewarm showers or sponge your newborn or youngster down with a cool face washer to cool a heated body. If there is no improvement or if you are concerned, seek urgent medical treatment.
(The writer is Head of Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Fortis Hospitals, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru.)
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