With warmer weather and daylight lasting into the late evening, many children are taking advantage of this time to run, play and participate in sports. It’s also a good time for parents to brush up on the signs of dehydration.
Children don’t adapt as well as adults do to exercise in hot, humid weather. They produce more heat, sweat less and may be less likely to drink enough fluids during exercise, all of which increase the risk of dehydration. Dehydration, if not treated, can lead to heat related illness such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and most importantly- heatstroke.
Understanding how heat-related problems occur and what you can do to make sure your child is protected against dehydration, can help your child have a safe and fun summer.
Any child who exercises or plays in the heat may be at risk of dehydration. The concern is often greatest for young athletes who participate in football, soccer, cross-country and other sports that start in late summer.
There are certain activities and types of children, who are more likely to end up dehydrated or ill. Children who rarely exercise, are overweight or obese, have had a recent illness with vomiting and diarrhea, or have had previous heat-related illnesses are at a higher risk of suffering heat-related illnesses and dehydration.
Parents, caregivers, and coaches should pay special attention to young football players who face special risks in the heat when exercising hard while wearing full protective gear.
Take time to acclimate to the heat
It’s important that your child become acclimated to the heat over a several day period.
Heat-related problems are most likely within the first few days of heavy play or in practicing for sports during hot weather. It’s better to take it easy at first, gradually increasing the amount of activity, and if wearing protective equipment, add a little more at a time. Young athletes may need up to two weeks to safely acclimate to the heat.
During hot and humid conditions, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages coaches to:
- Reduce the intensity of physical activity lasting more than 15 minute.
- Require young athletes to drink plenty of fluids before practice and during regular beverage breaks, even if they aren’t thirsty
- And limit clothing to a single layer of light-colored, lightweight material.
Know when to slow down, or call it quits
You know how hot and muggy weather can drain your energy, even making you feel weak at times, the same holds true for your children. Parents sometimes mistake childhood energy for being able to withstand more. Children are not little adults and can react suddenly and badly to overheating.
There are days when it’s simply too hot and muggy to go full throttle on the field. To determine when heat and humidity make strenuous exercise risky for young athletes, your child’s coach may monitor the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) — the standard index of temperature and humidity combined. If the WBGT is too high, outdoor athletic activities may need to be limited or canceled.
Identifying dehydration and other heat-related problems
Even mild dehydration can affect your child’s performance and make him or her lethargic and irritable. Left untreated, dehydration increases the risk of other heat-related illnesses.
Memorize the early signs and symptoms of dehydration, and teach them to your child. Even if he or she isn’t dehydrated or overheated, a friend may be.
The signs and symptoms are:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Excessive fatigue
Remind your child that he or she is responsible for reporting these signs and symptoms to a coach or yourself right away. Don’t let embarrassment keep your child on the field, or playground. If dehydration is detected early, fluids and rest may be all that’s needed. If your child seems confused or loses consciousness, seek emergency care.
It’s best to practice prevention
If your child plays sports in hot weather, encourage him or her to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after practices and games. Teach your child the signs and symptoms of dehydration, as well as the importance of speaking up if they occur. Involve your child’s coach, too. Talk to the coach about adjusting the intensity of practice depending on the temperature and humidity on the field — and support the coach’s decision to cancel games and practices when it’s dangerously hot outside.
Talk to other parents as well. Not all children are athletes, but most children love to play and play hard. It’s one of the best things about being a child, abundant energy! Just make sure that they are well hydrated while out in the heat.