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Heat and Babies
The hot, lazy days of summer are here again, and it is time to enjoy all of those warm-weather activities with your family. Amidst all of the outdoor fun, be wary of too much exposure and exercise in times of high heat and humidity. Parents and caregivers everywhere should be on the lookout for signs of potentially serious and even life-threatening heat-related illnesses in their children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta, Georgia, state that people suffer heat-related illness when the body’s temperature control system has been overloaded, with the elderly and children at high risk. Children under the age of one are also vulnerable to the effects of heat because it is extremely difficult for them to cool themselves. “Children are more susceptible to heat illness then adults. This is because our major method of cooling is by sweat evaporation and exchange of internal body heat with the environment,” explains Jon Divine, MD, and Medical Director for the Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio. “Children sweat less and have a higher ‘set-point’ to begin sweating. Body size clearly limits the body’s cooling abilities. A smaller person has less surface area exposed to the environment capable of either cooling by sweat evaporation or transfer of body heat to the environment.”
According to the medical website eMedicine, most estimates of fatalities caused by heat-related illness in the United States range from 300 to several thousand per year. Additionally, emergency-room visits for heat-related illnesses in children are a fairly common problem found in hospitals around the country. Dr. Divine estimates that, “about 10 percent of emergency department visits in the summertime are for children with heat-related illnesses.”
Children who suffer from chronic health problems are more susceptible to developing heat-related illnesses for various reasons. “The children most prone to heat-related illnesses are those with Cystic Fibrosis. These children have a sweat disorder, which causes them to lose excessive amount of both water and sodium. In addition, they have a reduced sense of thirst and are therefore less sensitive to the warning signals,” explains Kenneth L. Wible, MD, Chief, Section of General Pediatrics at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. Children with diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, and obesity issues are also at high risk, since, “they may also be more likely to have fluid imbalances and increased water needs. Obese children are at particular risk because they are usually poorly conditioned and experience increased stress from heat and activity. In addition, they have increased body heat production and decreased body surface relative to weight which reduces their cooling capacity,” states Dr. Wible.