Water Reduces the Risk of Heat-Related Conditions
Because water helps control the body's temperature, "it's the first line of defense against heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke," says Dr. Andy Spooner, MD, director of General Pediatrics at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis. "Both of these illnesses are the result of dehydration." Although children can become dehydrated any time of year, it's more likely to happen in the hot summer months because kids lose more water through the skin as perspiration.
Heat exhaustion results when the body loses too much water (10 to 15 percent of body weight) through sweat within several hours. Fortunately, in school-age and younger kids, heat exhaustion is rare. "But it can happen with children who play outside and forget to drink because they get caught up in what they're doing," says Dr. Spooner. Signs of heat exhaustion include fatigue, anxiety, and drenching sweats.
To guard against dehydration and heat exhaustion, make sure kids have easy access to water so they can drink at will. Carry bottles of water when you're traveling and at the beach, the park, and at summer festivals. Encourage water breaks if you sense your child is distracted and has forgotten about drinking, especially if he's physically active. In fact, "30 to 40 minutes before children play sports, have them drink a cup to a cup and a half of water," advises Dr. Steinberg. Then make sure they drink another cup to a cup and a half every half hour during the activity. Dr. Steinberg advises against routinely giving kids sports drinks such as Gatorade, which contain salt and sugar. "Kids don't lose a lot of salt in their sweat. Water is all they need," he says.
With heatstroke, a potentially fatal condition, body temperature rises to dangerously high levels because the body gets so hot, it can't cool itself. Although dehydration contributes to heatstroke, it's mainly related to a hot environment, says Dr. Steinberg. "We see heatstroke in Texas in kids who've carelessly been left in cars with the windows rolled up on a hot day. The ambient temperature of the car can get up to 140 degrees, and toddlers and small children can die in as little as an hour." (Heatstroke is an emergency; call 911 if you think your child may be suffering from it.)