Recognizing Heat Illness and Dehydration in Children

Published in Urgent Care, Wellness, Pediatrics

Author: Staff

Do you remember the lazy days of summer when you were a kid? When you would spend all day playing outside with siblings and friends? I treasure those memories! It was, and continues to be, my favorite time of year. But as summer heats up, so does the likelihood of heat stress and exhaustion. Kids are much more susceptible to heat illnesses than adults.


Being outside in high temperatures, direct sunlight and high humidity for long periods of time without enough rest and proper fluid intake puts both you and your child(ren) at risk of dehydration. Because children are much smaller than adults, they are more apt to get dehydrated more easily and experience a heat-related illness.

If your child is tired, thirsty, has dry lips and/or a dry tongue, a lack of energy or feels overheated, they are probably dehydrated. Kids often wait until they’re thirsty to drink something. By then it’s too late! They’re already dehydrated.

How to prevent dehydration:

Make sure your child or teen drinks cool water early and often. I always send my kids outside fully hydrated and make sure they take regular breaks to drink fluid even if they aren’t thirsty. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an active child drink six to eight glasses of water every day. Sports drinks are an acceptable substitute if water is unavailable.

Heat Illnesses

There are three different kinds of heat illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Unfortunately, every summer I see kids with a heat illness of some kind. Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke require immediate medical care. When left untreated, heat stroke can be deadly.

  • Heat cramps are painful cramps in the abdomen, arms or legs.
  • Heat exhaustion occurs when you experience dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, weakness, muscle pain and sometimes unconsciousness.
  • Heat stroke causes a temperature of 104 or higher with severe symptoms like nausea and vomiting, seizures, disorientation, lack of sweating, shortness of breath, unconsciousness and even coma.

If you think your child may be suffering from heat illness, get them out of the sun into a cool, comfortable place and give them plenty of cool fluids. Remove excess, bulky layers and put cool, wet cloths on overheated skin. Monitor your child carefully. If they don’t improve or can’t drink fluids, get them to a doctor as soon as possible.

How to prevent heat illnesses:

Even when your kids want to be outside—and we hope that’s often—it’s important that they take regular breaks in a cool environment away from the sun and heat.

Encourage your children to get outside to play. Kids should be active for at least an hour every day even if it means being that mom/dad—I’ve had to do it—who pulls the plug on those pesky video games and electronics. But remember to cover them in sunscreen and require regular activity and fluid breaks. And if you can, remember what it’s like to be a kid and join them outside for some fresh air and fun in the sun. It’s good for adults, too!