Late summer is the time for sports scrimmages, cheerleading practices, and band camps in advance of a new season. It’s also a prime time for heat-related illnesses in children.

Here’s a timely refresher on how to prevent heat-related illnesses from happening in the first place.

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Beat the Heat Tips

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even before you feel thirsty. Feeling thirsty means you’re already dehydrated, so stop dehydration by drinking before, during, and after any activities in the heat.
  • Wear lightweight, loose fitting clothing that breathe.
  • Try to exercise or play in shaded areas, and take frequent breaks to cool down.
  • Be especially careful when the humidity level is high. The body has a harder time cooling itself by sweating in higher humidity.
  • Monitor for signs of heat distress and act quickly.

These tips are not just for campers and athletes, but for all kids who are active in the summer weather.

Types of Heat-Related Illnesses

If you haven’t prevented the heat-related illness, the next best thing is recognizing it and treating it. In order of severity, the four types of heat-related illnesses are:


Of all the heat-related illnesses, dehydration is the most common. Heat and humidity make both children and adults vulnerable to dehydration. In dehydration, the first sign is thirst; however, there are other signs to watch for. They include:

  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Boredom or disinterest
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Inability to play as hard or as well as usual

Muscle Cramps

Heat related muscle cramps most often occur when a child is dehydrated and has been active in the heat over a long period. Cramps usually occur in the lower extremities but also can happen in the abdomen. If you suspect a child has a heat cramp, have the child:

  • Stop playing
  • Drink a sports drink to replenish fluids, preferably one containing sodium and electrolytes
  • Perform some light stretching and massage

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can occur when a child remains active during periods of dehydration. This is most common later in the summer during activity. Signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Trouble playing or finding it impossible to keep playing
  • Light-headedness, fainting, loss of coordination
  • Heavy sweating
  • Pale skin
  • Headache, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps or persistent muscle cramps

If these symptoms occur, it is important to act quickly:

  • Move the child to air-conditioning or at least to a shaded area
  • Remove excess clothing or equipment
  • Cool with water or fans
  • Lie the child down with legs raised above heart level
  • Rehydrate by giving water or a sports drink if the child is not nauseated or vomiting

If the child does not recover quickly, seek medical treatment promptly.

Heat Stroke

A serious heat-related illness that can lead to permanent disability or death if untreated, heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperatureheat1 rises above 104 degrees, usually because of vigorous activity in the heat. The risk of heat stroke increases as heat and humidity rise.

Signs a child may be suffering from heat stroke include:

  • Seizures, confusion, emotional instability, irrational behavior, or other signs of central nervous system dysfunction
  • Increase in core body temperature
  • Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, weakness, fast breathing, increased heart rate, dehydration, or combativeness

Heat stroke is an emergency situation.

Begin treatment immediately by:

  • Calling emergency medical personnel
  • Taking child out of the sun
  • Beginning to cool child while waiting for emergency medical personnel

For more information on safety initiatives at Children’s, visit


Updated Sept. 14, 2020

Noting the dangers associated with children and hot cars is important while discussing heat related illnesses. Leaving a child in a car and forgetting they are in there is unimaginable but happens frequently. It is usually centered around a break in the normal routine where the part of the brain that allows us to operate on “auto-pilot” (called the Basal Ganglia) is competing with the part of the brain that involves conscious awareness and new information (Hippocampus). Any break in a normal routine increases the risk of that auto-pilot kicking in and the new information (child in the car) getting overlooked. Use these tips to assist in remembering the change of routine to try and prevent this tragedy:

• Place a “Look Before You Lock” sticker on the driver side window.
• Leave your bag in the back with the child.
• Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat when the child isn’t in it, and move the toy to the front seat when the child is in the car seat.

Risk of injury is highest when we break routine. There were 39 deaths in the United States from children in hot cars in 2016 alone; we are at 19 so far in 2017. 54 percent of these deaths are when the child is forgotten in the car, and 28 percent are when a child is playing unattended in a car and becomes trapped inside. Temperature inside the car can reach 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature within just 10 minutes and can go up 34 degrees hotter in 30 minutes. A child’s body warms 3 to 5 times faster than an adult and can reach 106 degrees in 10 to 15 minutes. Remember and share this information to ACT:

A – Avoid injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute.
C – Create reminders by putting something in the back of the car next to the child (purse, phone, briefcase).
T – Take action if you see a child alone in a car – call 911.

For more information on safety initiatives at Children’s, visit

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Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.