Staying Healthy In The Heat: Local pediatrician discusses warm weather safety

Ohio weather is known for its midsummer heat and humidity, and the weather changes so quickly that temperatures can go from frigid to sweltering in a matter of weeks. Dr. Eugene Izsak M.D. is the Emergency Medical Pediatric Director at ProMedica’s Russell J. Ebeid Children’s Hospital. He stresses the importance of staying educated about warm weather safety. 

Dr. Izsak says the most common heat-related illness presented to emergency departments is heat exhaustion, which can happen for multiple reasons. One that parents hear about every year is leaving kids in cars in hot weather. It is always worth reminding parents to check their backseat before exiting the car. One of the most helpful tips is to leave something else in the backseat that you need to grab such as a backpack, purse or even your phone. 

If you’re wondering how hot is too hot to leave your child in the car, Dr. Izsak says any temperature is too hot due to how quickly a child’s body can overheat. Parking in the shade or leaving the car running with the A/C on is not enough to  prevent heat related illness or death. Dr. Izsak adds that “a child’s body can overheat in less than one hour in a car in the sun. On a summer day, a child’s body temperature can go over 100 degrees in two hours in the shade. Even if it is nighttime, a child can still be at risk if left in an unattended car.”

While the National Safety Committee recorded 23 hot car deaths in 2021, leaving kids in cars is not the only heat-related issue parents need to be concerned about. 

 Sun protection poolside 

Using protective clothing as a guard against sun exposure is always a smart idea. Lightweight, wide-brimmed hats offer great protection, as do lightweight cover-ups when your child is in direct sunlight for long periods of time.

In recent years, UPF swim shirts have been added to summer wardrobes for many children, but they should not be treated as a replacement for sunscreen. Dr. Izsak recommends sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher still be applied to children every 30-60 minutes, even if they are wearing UPF swim shirts. 

“Swim shirts often have UPF, which stands for ultraviolet protection factor,” he says. “While this can offer more protection than a cotton tee shirt, it is recommended to still use sunscreen, as there will still be areas exposed to UV rays. To provide adequate protection for the eye, sunglasses should be worn. Sunglasses will protect against UV-A and UV-B radiation, which can cause damage to the eyes overtime.”

Signs of heat-related illness can include sunburns, but also looking flushed, feeling dizzy or experiencing muscle cramps. At that point, the body is still able to cool itself down; however, once a child is experiencing heat exhaustion, their chances of heat stroke and death increase. Heat stroke presents different symptoms such as a throbbing headache, no sweating, or loss of consciousness. During heat stroke, the body is no longer able to cool itself down and its temperature may increase to 104 degrees. At this stage, it is unable to use its natural mechanics to cool off like it would with a fever, possibly leading to organ and brain damage.

How to play it safe

Playing outside is imperative for a child’s overall development and health, but breaks from the heat are also important. Water is still the best way to stay hydrated, and parents should also be aware of how much sugar is in drinks that boast added electrolytes and rehydration power.

“If a child is looking flushed, lethargic, or sweaty on a hot day, as long as they have access to plenty of fluids and shade, it is okay to play outside for a few hours,” says Dr. Izsak. “However, it is encouraged for a parent to monitor play, enforce frequent breaks inside and reapply sun protection.”

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