June 5, 2013

Beat the heat

Even though some of our summer days can be foggy, the temperature rises quickly as soon as the marine layer burns off.

When young people are caught up in the excitement of playing hoops on the driveway or even just taking a leisurely bike ride, they might not notice the temperature rising. But their bodies will react to the heat anyway, and parents need to pay attention.

Under normal conditions, the body’s natural control mechanisms — skin, vascular system, and perspiration — adjust to the heat. But those systems can fail if a child is exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods.

Here are some tips to help young people — or those just young at heart — beat the heat:

  • Limit exercise or strenuous physical activity to the coolest parts of the day — usually early morning or late evening.
  • Have children wear loose-fitting clothing that’s both lightweight and light in color. Choose clothing that draws perspiration away from the skin to keep the body cooler, such as cotton T-shirts and shorts. Newer perspiration-wicking synthetic fabrics also are effective.
  • Have children drink plenty of water, and remind them not to wait until they’re thirsty to take a drink. The thirst mechanism kicks in only after a body is significantly depleted of fluids. A person exercising heavily in hot weather should try to drink two to four glasses of water — or 16 to 32 ounces — every hour.
  • Keep thirsty children away from liquids that contain caffeine or lots of sugar — these actually cause a body to lose more fluid. Also, remember that a drink that’s too cold might cause stomach cramps.
  • Take a break in a shady area to cool down.
  • Don’t overdo it. Start slowly and increase the pace gradually. In weather that’s extremely hot and humid, it’s best to avoid strenuous exercise altogether. What’s normal activity on a cool day might be dangerous on a hot one.
  • Be sure everyone wears sunscreen. It’s harder for the body to keep sunburned skin cool. And hats not only help keep the sun off the face and head, but they also offer protection from sunburn while keeping the body cooler.

Parents should be particularly mindful of high heat inside a parked car. Leaving a child there for any length of time could prove fatal, even when outdoor temperatures seem relatively low.

It’s important for parents to know the symptoms of heat-related illness. If you don’t pay attention to the warning signs, your child’s natural cooling system could begin to fail, and that could lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heatstroke.

If a child starts to feel overheated, activity should stop immediately. The child should rest in a cool, shaded area and drink plenty of fluids. If heat cramps have started, massaging sore muscles may help alleviate some of the pain. These are all good ways to beat the heat so that summer stays enjoyable.