Talking hitting the ground running on the first couple days of Summer! Instead of our typical slow slide into the uber high temperatures of July, we’re starting off the first few days of summer with an official heat wave – the type that creates the official heat advisories, the opening of cooling centers, and such discomfort when you go outside, you just don’t.
We all know that summer sun packs a punch with heat and humidity but a few times a year the elements go on overdrive and we experience a heat wave. Coast to coast, the temperatures this week are not just high but off the charts – approaching 100 degrees in some areas, and possibly higher. If the heat index reaches these temperatures for 3 consecutive days most meteorologists start using the term “heat wave”. We’re used to that in New England in July and August but not June.
So, how hot are they talking for this week? The heat index will be so high we could cook a steak in our car or evaporate 3/4 of a bottle of drinking water in record time. If you apply this level of heat to a person, someone could get badly burned touching the outside of a car or sitting on an object left outside. If in a hot car, an adult or child can become quickly dehydrated to a life threatening level in minutes due to that person’s body temperature rising. This is what occurs in heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In fact, in kids this occurs very, very quickly which is why it’s so important to never leave kids in cars on warm days even for a second, to make sure everyone is drinking water and to keep everyone cool.
Here’s some information on the major heat-related illnesses to be on the watch for:
Heat Cramps are muscle cramps that can be very uncomfortable. They often develop in the legs, stomach and arms. Treatment includes getting the person to a cool place, stretching the affected muscle and drinking a lot of fluids. This is a situation where drinking a sports drink can help since it’s the loss of electrolytes in sweat that contributes to the cramp.
Heat Syncope is when a person passes out after having been standing for a long while or when moving from sitting to standing quickly. Kids need to be properly hydrated to stand for long times and if participating in outside activities, standing for a while without drinking, they are at risk for this. If a child does faint, they usually wake up right away after they pass out. Keep the child lying down in a cool place and drinking until they feel better. If they child doesn’t wake up right away, call 911. In my experience, kids who pass out from heat-related dehydration tend to need more fluids than they can take in orally so they often need to come to the ER. If a child can’t drink well and stand up without being dizzy, call an ambulance to get the child to an ER where they can cool down better and get some cool IV fluids.
Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke both require medical attention and can become life-threatening if not attended to quickly.
Heat Exhaustion is all the symptoms of dehydration in a child who looks exhausted and tired and has a temperature, but less than 104. The child is often profusely sweating to attempt to cool down. This is an urgent situation which is best treated in the emergency room. If you don’t feel you can get the child to the emergency room quickly by car, call 911 so treatment can begin with trained professionals ASAP.
Heat Stroke is always a 911 moment. A child with heat stroke with have an off the chart fever (104 or higher), mental status changes, and perhaps even seizures. If awake, the child may be truly delirious and not making any sense at all. It is very frightening to witness. Unlike heat exhaustion, this child won’t be sweating – there is no more fluid to sweat out. These kids need to be treated by an emergency room team and cooled very carefully with chilled IV fluid and ice. While waiting for the ambulance, remove some of the child’s clothes and if you have ice, place the ice under the child’s neck and armpits to start cooling down the child’s body. If you have a spray bottle, spraying with cool water on the skin can help and offering fluids if the child is awake enough to drink useful. But, this may not be possible. When in doubt, just wait for the emergency team.
So, don’t tempt fate. If your kids are still in school, make sure they have plenty of cold water on hand and even consider sending fans to school. If they are out of school already, don’t brave the elements. Stay in AC – hit a movie or a museum. You have all summer to hit a beach and hang with friends outside and it will be much more fun if you wait until a day that doesn’t come with a heat advisory warning from the National Weather Service.