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It is quite impossible to keep kids indoors during summers. After having finally gotten a break from school and homework, all they want to do is go out and play all day long. But as a parent, it is obvious that you will be concerned about their health, especially looking at how hot summers are becoming with every passing year. Summers can be cruel to the body – they make you sweat, they make you lose appetite, and they bring a host of allergies and illnesses. One such serious problem is ‘heat stroke’.
What is Heat Stroke?
A heat stroke is when prolonged exposure to harsh sun – especially during summer afternoons – causes the body’s temperature regulation system to fail. Normally the human body is able to auto regulate its temperature in response to a rise or drop in the surrounding temperature. This is why we sweat during summer (to cool the body), and eat more food during winters (because food digestion generates heat in the body and keeps you warm). However, this natural ‘thermostatic’ ability of the body has an upper limit – they body cannot do this over a very large range of external temperature. That’s why prolonged exposure to the summer heat can cause the body’s natural thermostat to fail, resulting in a heat stroke.
Preliminary Symptoms Leading to a Heat Stroke
The key word to note in the above explanation is ‘prolonged’. Heatstroke never occurs suddenly. It is always a result of long hours of exposure to the sun. Hence, it is possible to prevent a heatstroke. All you need to do is identify the preliminary signs and symptoms of a heatstroke.
Before your child actually suffers from a heatstroke, he might show the following symptoms
- Heat exhaustion – dizziness; feeling faint or weak; not being able to concentrate, perceive or understand what’s happening around
- Heat syncope – fainting brought on by excessive exposure to heat
- Heat cramps – cramping of the muscles brought on by excessive loss of water (due to exposure to harsh sun)
Common Symptoms of Heat Stroke
A heat stroke is a very grave condition that require immediate medical assistance. However, it is important to be able to identify that your child is having a heatstroke, in order to seek help for it. Here are the hallmark signs of a heatstroke:
1. Lack of Sweating
We usually sweat when we are in the hot summer sun. A person who is in the midst of a heat stroke will not sweat. This is the first, most conspicuous, and easily identifiable sign of a heatstroke.
2. Rapid, Shallow Breathing
This is another sign that is easy to identify. Breathing of a heat stroke victim will be shallow, disrupted, and quickened.
3. Hot, Dry, Flaming Skin
One of the first organs to be affected by a heat stroke would be the skin. It will turn red, hot, and very dry.
A child suffering from a heat stroke will look confused, in a state of dizziness; his movements will look staggered, like he is unsure of where he is going and what he is doing. In extreme cases, he may not be able to respond when called or asked simple questions like his name.
He may face sudden, excessive, jerky, involuntary convulsions that cause the body to go into uncontrolled spasms.
Finally, a child suffering from a heat stroke might just lose consciousness and faint.
First-Aid for Heat Stroke
It is important to administer correct first aid to a child when he suffers from a heat stroke. The very first thing you want to do is call for an ambulance. It is not always required, but it is quite common for people suffering from heat stroke to be hospitalized. While you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive, do the following:
- Take him away from the sun. Move the child to a shady area (if outdoors), or take him indoors to a cooler room.
- Assist the child to cool off – fan over his body, take his clothes off, and use cold water cloth strips to wipe his body.
- Give him a cold water sponge bath.
- Apply cold water to body parts that are rich in blood vessels – namely armpits, groin, back, and neck. The fact that these regions are rich in blood vessels allows the body to rapidly cool down.
DO NOT Use Ice – An Important Tip
This might sound confusing – an ice bath might be the fastest way to bring body temperature down. In fact, it is often suggested as first aid in case of heat strokes. However, this method can prove to be quite tricky and dangerous for young children and babies. The reason being – the body of young children and babies might not be able to cope with the sudden and extreme drop in temperature. It can prove to be fatal. So whatever you do – DO NOT use ice.
Prevention is Better than Cure
It is important to realise that: babies, young children, and elderly people are particularly more prone to a heat stroke and other heat-related issues like dehydration, dizziness, etc. This is because their bodies are unable to cope with heat as efficiently as adults can. Hence it is imperative to avoid a heatstroke at all costs.
Here are some easy measures you can adopt to keep yourself and your child away from a heat stroke:
- Try and avoid stepping outdoors from 11am to 4pm, especially during summers. The sun is at its peak during these hours. Reschedule activities and plan your day accordingly.
- When stepping out of the house, always carry a bottle of water, and keep some sweets handy (granola bars, chocolates, dates, etc.).
- Keep your head covered when you step out. Use a scarf or a wide-brimmed hat. (By the way – it looks fancy and fashionable too!)
- Wear comfortable, loose clothes, preferably made of natural fibers, especially cotton. Such clothes will enable your body to remain aerated, will allow it to breathe, and will prevent heat from getting trapped.
- Use a good sun-screen cream or lotion, with a minimum SPF of 30.
- If you or your child go for sports, make sure you provide your body with electrolytes and not just water. Prefer fruit juices over normal water. The classic nimbu pani might work like elixir – it provides the body with salt, sugar, and water.