Heat Cramps Exhaustion and Stroke

  • Overview

    Exposure to abnormal or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without relief or adequate fluids can cause various types of heat-related illness. Children and adolescents adjust more slowly than adults do to changes in environmental heat and are thus more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.

    Why your child might be vulnerable

    Children also produce more heat with activity than adults and sweat less. Sweating is one of the body's normal cooling mechanisms; so children can become overheated when playing or exercising. Children and adolescents often do not think to rest when having fun and may not drink enough fluids when playing, exercising, or participating in sports.

    Children who may be especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses

    Children and adolescents with chronic health problems, or those who take certain medicines, may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Children and adolescents who are overweight or wear heavy clothing during exertion, such as marching band or football uniforms, are also more susceptible.

  • In-Depth

    Three types of heat-related illnesses

    • heat cramps
    • heat exhaustion
    • heat stroke

    What are heat cramps?

    Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat injury and consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat.

    What is heat exhaustion?

    Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.

    What is heat stroke?

    Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, occurs when the body's heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. It's a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

    Symptoms and first-aid measures for heat injuries:

    The following chart contains the most common symptoms of heat-related injuries. However, each adolescent may experience symptoms differently. In addition specific treatment will be determined by your adolescent's physician and may include some, or more, of the following:

    Condition: Symptoms: First Aid:
    Heat cramps

    painful cramps, especially in the legs

    flushed, moist skin

    mild fever, usually less than 102.5 F

    Move to a cool place and rest.

    Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on skin; fan skin

    Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar such as Gatorade

    Stretch cramped muscles slowly and gently
    Heat exhaustion

    muscle cramps

    pale, moist skin

    usually has a fever over 102 degrees

    nausea

    vomiting

    diarrhea

    headache

    fatigue

    weakness

    anxiety, and faint feeling

    Move to a cool place and rest

    Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar such as Gatorade

    If no improvement or unable to take fluids, call your adolescent's physician or take your child to an emergency department immediately. IV (intravenous) fluids may be needed.

    Heat stroke

    warm, dry skin

    high fever, usually over 104 degrees

    rapid heart rate

    loss of appetite

    nausea

    vomiting

    headache

    fatigue

    confusion

    agitation

    lethargy

    stupor

    seizures, coma, and death are possible

    Move to a cool place and rest.

    Call 911 or your local emergency medical service. Heat stroke is a lifethreatening medical emergency and needs to be treated by a physician

    Remove excess clothing and drench skin with cool water; fan skin.

    Place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas.

    Offer cool fluids if alert and able to drink.

    How can heat stroke be prevented?

    Some general guidelines to help protect your adolescent from heat-related illnesses include the following:

    • Encourage your adolescent to drink plenty of fluids during vigorous or outdoor activities (including sunbathing), especially on hot days. Good choices include water and sports drinks; avoid alcohol and fluids with caffeine such as tea, coffee, and cola, as these can lead to dehydration.
    • Make sure your adolescent dresses in light colored, lightweight, tightly-woven, loose-fitting clothing on hot days.
    • Have your adolescent schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day. Encourage him or her to take rest periods in shady or cool areas.
    • Makes sure your adolescent is protected from the sun (SPF 15) and wears a hat and sunglasses, and uses an umbrella.
    • Encourage your adolescent to increase time spent outdoors gradually so his or her body gets used to the heat.
    • Teach adolescents to take frequent drink breaks and "wet down" or mist themselves with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated.
    • Encourage your adolescent to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
    • Teach your adolescent to warm-up and cool-down before and after exercising.
    • If your adolescent has a medical condition or is taking medication, consult your adolescent's physician for further advice for preventing heat-related illnesses.
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