Heat Exhaustion: What is it and Can it be Prevented?

Hello Mommies and Daddies. Thank you for reading with me today! As you know, I started happyhealthychildren.org to help parents shed the toxic elements of today’s modern culture and get back to basics of raising happy, healthy children.

For those of you who live in northern climates, you may not believe this, but spring is already here and summer is just around the corner. For those of us who live in year-around warm climates, we are already feeling the heat. So today I want to talk with you about the important topic of heat exhaustion.

Many parents who read this blog are joined with me in wanting their children to run and play outside as much as possible.  The notion of heat exhaustion may not cross our minds, as we remember running and playing for hours-on-end outside as children without any problems.

My personal experience with heat exhaustion

I, myself, did not think much about heat exhaustion until about a week ago when my totally healthy son developed the illness and got really sick.  It happened when our family was on spring break. Our children were playing outdoors all day and they simply did not take enough time to rehydrate or cool down. Thankfully, in the case of our son, we caught his symptoms in time and were able to get him treated before any permanent damage was done. 

Shaping minds and forming memories!

I am sharing our experience with you, not to make you afraid or try to discourage you from having your children play in the great outdoors.  But rather, because our personal experience made me realize that, if such a serious illness can afflict my healthy son who was already acclimated to hot weather, it can happen to anyone. And, as with most dangers in life, being educated about a topic often allows you to turn a bad situation in a better direction.

What causes heat exhaustion?

So, let’s talk about heat exhaustion.  Firstly, what causes it?  Under ordinary circumstances, our body regulates its temperature, maintaining it within a range compatible with life. This allows us to function properly within our external surroundings. However, when people develop heat exhaustion, they lose their ability to regulate their body’s temperature.  This leads to heat exhaustion and, if left untreated, heat stroke.

What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion?

When my son developed heat exhaustion, his symptoms included headache, fever, nausea followed by vomiting, and confusion. Other possible symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, an abnormal breathing pattern, excessive perspiration, decreased urine production, and abnormal vital signs.

It is important to realize that the symptoms of heat exhaustion might start out so mild that you think your child is just tired from a fun day of outdoor play. However, if your child has been exposed to the heat for a prolonged period of time and they develop any of these symptoms, it is imperative to keep a close eye on them. What initially might look like some mild fatigue from a fun day outside can quickly turn into a life-threatening illness.

Are some people more likely to develop heat exhaustion than others?

As with most illnesses, heat exhaustion more commonly affects the youngest and oldest amongst us. Very young children and the elderly just don’t have as much reserve as older children and younger adults.  Also, infirm people are more prone to heat exhaustion then healthy people, again because debilitated people just don’t have as much reserve. Additionally, people who take certain medications like water pills or people who use substances such as alcohol, are more likely to develop heat exhaustion than others. Finally, people who are not used to being in high levels of heat and humidity are more likely to develop heat exhaustion than people who are well-acclimated to the extreme temperatures.

While it is true that certain factors lead to some individuals being more likely to develop heat exhaustion, the illness can affect anyone. Trust me! Like I said, my son developed heat exhaustion despite living in a chronically warm, humid environment, having no medical problems and eating a proper breakfast that morning.

What should you do if you suspect heat exhaustion?

If your child is developing the symptoms listed above, bring them inside if possible. If not, get them into a shaded, cool area.  Try to cool them down using cold, wet washcloths on their forehead, the back of their neck, under their arms and in their groin.  If you have ice available, use this along with the cold washcloths. Have them rest. Provide them with fluids, preferably ones containing electrolytes.

When does heat exhaustion become dangerous?

Heat exhaustion is dangerous from the very beginning. Please take your children’s symptoms seriously! If your child is displaying symptoms of heat exhaustion and you have taken the above-mentioned measures with complete resolution of their symptoms, you can continue to monitor them. But watch them closely! They may begin to cool down with your initial measures, but they can heat back up to dangerous temperatures. If they do not demonstrate complete recovery, take them to the emergency room.

Treatment for severe heat exhaustion

The best treatment for severe heat exhaustion is immersing the patient in a tub of cold water or ice.  While this may sound extreme, it is a measure that has saved countless numbers of lives. Other treatments include being in very cold air conditioning and evaporative cooling techniques.

Left untreated heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke which causes brain damage, organ failure and eventually death. Remember, the key is keeping your eyes open for signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and, if they develop, treating them early.

Prevention of heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Remember the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Encourage behaviors in your children that prevent heat exhaustion from developing in the first place.  Have your children dress in loose-fitting, breathable clothing. Encourage them to take intermittent breaks during play, especially during the hottest hours of the day. Let them take the time to get acclimated to hot temperatures.  Remind them of the importance of taking breaks to rehydrate. Avoid sunburn. And, of course, never leave a young child or baby alone in a parked car! Not even just for a moment to go grab your phone, use the bathroom or any other reason. 

Concluding thoughts

My dear readers, summertime is almost here.  I want your children to get out and enjoy nature as much as possible. This post is simply meant to remind you of things to keep an eye on as the hot weather rolls in and your children begin to run out and enjoy it.

Thank you for reading today!  Please enter your email address below to subscribe to my blog, which will allow my future posts to come directly to your inbox.  Write to me at dr.pamela@happyhealthychildren.org with any topics you would like to see me cover in the future .  And please share my Gettr account, Facebook page, YouTube videos and Instagram with your friends and family. 

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