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Heat Exhaustion in Children

Children are always at a higher risk of suffering from heat exhaustion under extremely hot and humid weather conditions where the body finds it difficult to expel heat even by sweating. This can result in dehydration and heat exhaustion which can further cause a heat stroke. Therefore it is vital for parents to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and provide the right treatment for heat exhaustion. Children should always be supervised while playing outdoors to prevent such emergencies. An adult’s body is more capable of regulating its own temperature as compared to a child’s body and this is why children are more prone to heat exhaustion as compared to adults. The other causes of heat exhaustion in children are that children spend more time in outdoor activities such as playing and sports and since they don’t have as much restraint as adults, they do not pay attention to keeping themselves hydrated or taking breaks or going indoors if it gets too hot.

This is why adult supervision is very important to prevent children from suffering heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Babies on the other hand are even more at risk because the heat absorption and heat production in their body is higher whereas their sweating capacity is relatively lower as compared to older children and adults. Excessive sweating causes dehydration and loss of salts from the body hence resulting in heat exhaustion. The most common symptoms of heat exhaustion include slightly elevated body temperature (normally never over 104 degrees Fahrenheit), pale damp skin, excessive sweating, elevated breathing, nausea, vomiting or headaches, weakness, dizziness or fainting and muscle cramps.

The first and most basic line of treatment for heat exhaustion and heat stroke should be to move the child to a cooler area immediately. The child should be made to lie down and all extra clothes and footwear should be removed to allow heat to escape from the body. Cold water should be sprayed or applied on the body to facilitate faster cooling. If the child has suffered heat exhaustion and is conscious, cold water or glucose should be given to him/her to drink. Incase the child is over exhausted and cannot drink, intravenous fluids might be a necessity and should be administered only by qualified medical professionals. If heat exhaustion is not treated in proper time, it can progress into a heat stroke which is even more severe. Heat stroke is an emergency condition which can cause permanent organ damage and even death if not treated properly in time. In a heat stroke the body absorbs and produces more heat than it can release and hence even sweating doesn’t take place properly to expel the excess body heat.

The symptoms of heat stroke include extremely high body temperature (usually above 104 degrees Fahrenheit), seizures, hallucinations, dry hot skin, headaches, nausea or vomiting, weakness, elevated pulse rate and fast breathing. The basic method of treatment for heat exhaustion and heat stroke are similar and involve bringing down the body temperature as quickly as possible using cooling techniques. Emergency personnel must be contacted immediately and in the meantime cold packs or cold water should be placed in the armpits and groin area to enable the body to cool down faster. Heat stroke victims however, should never be given anything to drink till their condition stabilizes. Body temperature has to be monitored continuously by the medical team and intravenous fluids are also administered to avoid dehydration. Preventing heat exhaustion would help in avoiding many other life threatening conditions as well. To prevent such emergencies, children should not be allowed to go outdoors in extreme heat and even if they do, they should wear light colored lose fitting clothes and should be made to drink water at regular intervals.

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