How to Prevent Heat Illness and Dehydration
Why Kids Need Special Attention
Children have an increased risk of dehydration and heat illness for several reasons:
- They generate more heat per unit of body mass then adults.
- Once dehydrated, a child’s core body temperature increases more than an adult’s would.
- Kids are more likely than adults to not drink enough fluid when exercising.
- Children have a lower sweat rate than adults and they accumulate more heat from the environment.
- Kids lose more sodium and chloride in their sweat than adults do.
How Much Kids Need
Each child varies tremendously in fluid needs based on training, equipment (hockey equipment can make a child lose more fluid through sweat) and their own individual physiology. General guidelines for keeping kids hydrated:
- Have your child drink until he or she does not feel thirsty and then consume an extra 4–8 ounces of fluid.
- Offer your child a sports drink if he or she is exercising for a long period of time or exercising with heavy equipment on. A sports drink will help replace the electrolytes lost through sweat—and taste is critical for small kids. If they like the taste, they will drink more than if they were to consume plain water.
- Drink 4–8 ounces of fluid before activity, 4 ounces (about 8 gulps of fluid for a small child) every 15 minutes and at least 16 ounces after exercise.
Watch for Warning Signs
Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat illness and dehydration. It is imperative that you help your child immediately so he or she doesn’t reach the point of heat exhaustion. Some signs and symptoms to be aware of:
- Increased thirst
- Flushed, hot, dry skin
- Rapid breathing and heartbeat
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Increased sweating
- Cool skin
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek emergency care right away and while waiting, bring your child indoors or under shade immediately and take extra equipment, hats and shoes and socks off (and shirts off for boys). Have the child lie down and put cool, wet towels on the forehead, under the arms and under the knees to help him or her cool off. He or she can take sips of a clear beverage if not nauseas.
Dehydration and heat illness can be prevented but, as a parent or coach, you need to be especially aware of when it’s time to take a child off the ice or field. As a coach of an outdoor sport or during dryland training for hockey, your best bet is to schedule practice at the coolest times of the day and have the kids take breaks every 15 minutes.
Editor’s Note: Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a sports nutrition expert who works with athletes throughout the country. Her website is: www.mariespano.com.
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