With more record-breaking temperatures forecast in parts of the country, public health experts are cautioning that children more vulnerable to heat illness Compared to adults – even more so when they are in the athletic field, living without air conditioning, or waiting in a parked car.
Cases of heat-related illness are on the rise with average air temperatures, and experts say nearly half of those who get sick are children. The reason is twofold: Children’s bodies have more trouble regulating temperature than adults, and they rely on adults to help protect them from overheating.
Parents, coaches, and other caregivers who may experience the same heat very differently than children struggle to identify a dangerous condition or catch early signs of heat-related illness in children may have to.
“Children are not little adults,” Dr. Aaron Bernsteina pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.
jaan nulA California meteorologist recalled being shocked by the effects of heat in a car. It was 86 degrees on a July afternoon more than two decades ago when an infant in San Jose was forgotten in a parked car and died of heatstroke.
Null said a reporter asked him after his death, “How hot could that car get?”
Faucet eventually researched with two emergency doctors at Stanford University gave a shocking answer, Within an hour, the temperature of that car could exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Their work showed that a quick act could be dangerous for a child left behind in a car—even for less than 15 minutes, even with windows cracked. , and even on a mild day.
as record heat It happens more frequentNumber of cases of heat-related illnesses, posing serious risks to even healthy adults has gone up, including children. Those most at risk include young children and teens returning to school in parked vehicles and participating in sports on the hottest days of the year.
over 9,000 high school athletes Heat-related ailments are treated every year.
Heat-related illnesses occur when exposure to high temperatures and humidity, which can be exacerbated by physical exertion, overwhelms the body’s ability to cool itself. Cases range from mild, such as mild heat rash in infants, to more severe, when the core body temperature rises. This can lead to life-threatening instances of heatstroke, diagnosed when the body temperature rises above 104 degrees, potentially leading to organ failure.
Prevention is key. Experts stress that drinking plenty of water, avoiding the outdoors during hot afternoons and afternoon hours, and taking it slow while adjusting to exercise are the most effective ways. avoid getting sick,
Research shows that children’s bodies take longer to increase sweat production and adapt than adults to otherwise hot environments. Young children are also more vulnerable to dehydration because a large percentage of their body weight is water.
Babies and young children also have more trouble controlling their body temperature, as they often do not recognize when they should drink more water or get dressed to cool off. a 1995 study showed that young children who spent 30 minutes in a 95-degree room saw their core temperature rise significantly and more rapidly than their mothers’—even though they were found to be more than adults for their size. Sweat ensues.
pediatrician advise caretakers to keep an eye on how much water do children drink And encourage them to drink before they ask for it. Thirst indicates that the body is already dehydrated.
They should also make children wear light-coloured, light clothing; Limit outdoor time during the hottest hours; And look for ways to cool off, such as visiting an air-conditioned place like the library, taking a cold shower, or going for a swim.
To address risk to student athletesNational Athletic Trainers Association recommended That high school athletes gradually build up their activity over the course of two weeks—which includes gradually increasing the amount of any protective equipment they wear—when returning to their sport for the new season.
“You’re gradually increasing that intensity over a week to two weeks so your body can get used to the heat,” said NATA president Cathy Dearinger.
Warning signs and solutions
Experts say that flushing of the face, fatigue, muscle cramps, headache, dizziness, vomiting and excessive sweating are among the symptoms of heat exhaustion, which can develop into heatstroke if left untreated. Call the doctor if symptoms worsen, such as if the child seems disoriented or cannot drink alcohol.
taking immediate steps It is important to cool down a child experiencing heat exhaustion or heatstroke. the child should be moved to a shaded or cool area; be given cold liquids with salt, such as sports drinks; And remove sweaty or heavy clothing.
For teens, being immersed in an ice bath is the most effective way to cool the body, while younger children can be wrapped in a cool, wet towel or covered with lukewarm water and placed in front of a fan.
Although the death of children in parked cars is well documented, tragic events keeps happening. According to federal statistics, 23 children died due to heat stroke of vehicles in 2021. Zero, who collects his dataSo far this year 12 children have died.
Nal said caregivers should never leave children alone in a parked car. Take steps to prevent young children from entering and becoming trapped in the car themselves, including locking the car when parked at home.
He said more than half of vehicular-induced pediatric heatstroke cases are because a caretaker accidentally leaves a child behind. While in-car technology has become more common in reminding adults to check their rear seats, only a small number of vehicles have it, requiring parents to come up with their own methods, such as That leaving a stuffed animal in the front seat.
The good news, Null said, is that simple behavior changes can protect children. “It is preventable in 100% of cases,” he said.
people living in Low-income areas fare worse when the temperature rises. Access to air conditioning, which includes being able to afford the electricity bill, is a serious health concern.
A study of heat in urban areas It was released last year that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color experience much higher temperatures than wealthier, white residents. Temperatures in poorer areas during summer Can get as hot as 7 degrees Fahrenheit,
The study authors said that their findings in the United States indicate that ” Redlining’s Legacy looms large,” referring to a federal housing policy that refused to insure mortgages in or near predominantly black neighborhoods.
“These areas have less tree canopy, more roads and higher building densities, meaning that, in addition to their other racist consequences, policies are codified directly into existing inequality in urban land use legislation and urban design choices have been strengthened. are currently increasing urban heating,” he concluded.
This month, Bernstein, who leads Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment, co-authored a commentary in JAMA arguing that advancing health equity is key. Climate change,
between Works with front-line health clinics to help their primarily low-income patients respond health effects of climate change, She added that federally-backed clinics alone provide care to about 30 million Americans, including many children.
Bernstein also recently led a nationwide study Which found that from May to September, days with higher temperatures are associated with more visits to children’s hospital emergency rooms. Many seizures were directly linked to heat, although the study also highlighted how high temperatures can exacerbate existing health conditions such as neurological disorders.
“Children are more vulnerable to climate change because of how these climate shocks change the world they grow up in,” Bernstein said.
Experts said helping people better understand the health risks of extreme heat and how to protect themselves and their families is one of the major challenges facing the public health system.
The National Weather Service’s heat alert system is based primarily on the heat index, which is a measure of how hot the air feels when relative humidity is combined with temperature.
But the alerts are not related to the impact on health, said Kathy Baughman McLeodAdrienne Arsht-Director of the Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. By the time the temperature rises to the level that a weather warning is issued, many vulnerable people – such as children, pregnant women and the elderly – may already be experiencing heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
The center developed a new heat warning system that is being tested in Seville, Spain, one of the hottest cities historically in Europe,
The system marries metrics such as air temperature and humidity with public health data to classify heat waves and name them when they are severe enough – thereby treating heat as an environmental hazard for people. It becomes easier to understand in which prevention measures are needed.
The categories are determined through a metric known as excess deaths, which compares how many people died in a day with predicted temperatures versus an average day. This could help health officials understand how severe a heat wave is to be expected and make informed recommendations to the public based on risk factors such as age or medical history.
The health-based alert system would allow officials to target caregivers of children and seniors through the school system, preschools and senior centers, Baughman McLeod said.
He said it is important to give people better ways of conceptualizing heat.
“It’s not dramatic. It doesn’t rip off the roof of your house,” Baughman McLeod said. “It’s silent and invisible.”