Exercising in the heat and humidity can lead to cramps, heat exhaustion and sometimes heatstroke, the most severe form of heat-related illness. Children with medical conditions like sickle cell traits, diabetes and obesity, as well as kids who take stimulants or anti-depressants, are at increased risk of heat-related illness.
Muscle cramps are often the first sign of trouble. Usually triggered during heavy exercise in heat, these cramps typically aren’t serious, and can be treated by stretching, resting in a cool area, and replacing lost fluids and salts with water, a sports drink, or, ideally, an oral rehydration solution that includes a proper balance of sugar and electrolytes, such as Pedialyte, in order to replenish fluid and salt lost through sweat. The worst thing your child could drink during exercise (or really ever): energy drinks, which contain caffeine and a host of other chemicals and supplements that can make the problem worse.
More worrisome is heat exhaustion. In addition to muscle cramps, symptoms may include excessive thirst, nausea, cool or clammy skin, weakness, severe muscle aches, heavy sweating, dizziness or heightened body temperature (a mild fever). Children may also have trouble thinking or focusing. The same basic guidelines apply. Get your child to a cool or shady place and have him or her rehydrate. Also remove any excess clothing and apply ice packs or cool, wet cloths to your child’s skin. If they show more severe symptoms (such as fainting), seek immediate medical attention.
The most serious condition is heatstroke, which develops when the body becomes unable to regulate its temperature. Left untreated, heatstroke can result in severe brain damage and even death. In fact, heatstroke is the third-leading cause of exercise-related deaths in athletes. Symptoms include confusion, dizziness, vomiting, seizures, rapid heartbeat, body temperatures in excess of 104 degrees and skin that is hot and dry to the touch.
If your child displays any of the symptoms of heatstroke, or becomes unresponsive, seek immediate emergency medical help. If possible, place the child in a tub of cold or icy water. If not, placing ice packs on the neck, armpits and groin is the next-best option.
Although heat illness can be scary, it can be prevented. Make sure your child stays properly hydrated and well rested and eats a balanced diet. Have your child wear loose-fitting, absorbent or moisture-wicking clothing and make sure coaches know how to acclimate athletes to training in the heat. Try to avoid heavy exercise between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., the hottest hours of the day.
— Dr. Emily Stuart