Heat-related illness like heat exhaustion and heat stroke can oftentimes send kids to the emergency room in the summer months.

What should you look for and what should you do if your child is showing signs of any heat-related illness? Better yet, how can you help your child prevent these illnesses all together? Dr. John Brancato, Division Head of Emergency Medicine at Connecticut Children’s, has the answers.

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Watch out for those hot, humid days.

Southern New England is notorious for hot, humid summers and periods of extreme heat. When it comes to heat-related illness, these are the days to pay attention to. Make sure your child stays well hydrated.

However, encourage them to listen to their body, not just the temperature outside. We can recognize when we feel too hot or uncomfortable easily.

As a rule, 75% humidity on a hot day should be your cue to keep outdoor play and activities to a bare minimum.  You can also use the “heat index”, often provided by weather services on the hottest days. The heat index is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature.  Use extreme caution when the heat index is 90oF or higher.

>Related: 5 Creative Ways for Kids to Stay Hydrated 

There are different degrees of heat-related illness.

Heat-related illness happens when the body’s ability to regulate its own temperature weakens.  So, how likely is it that your child will develop full-blown heatstroke and not just heat exhaustion on a 95-degree humid day? It’s rare, but possible.

For heat stroke, watch out for:

  • A core body temperature of 104 degrees or higher
  • Severe confusion or complete loss of consciousness
  • High heart rate
  • Higher-than-normal blood pressure
  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
  • Extreme fatigue

Then, head to the emergency room or in a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

For heat exhaustion, watch out for:

  • A core body temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, but lower than 104 degrees
  • Slight confusion, but alert and conscious
  • High heart rate, but normal blood pressure
  • Some nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Some fatigue, but nothing significant
  • Heat cramps—from not drinking enough. Some fainting is possible.
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It can be tricky sometimes to tell the difference between heat stroke heat exhaustion because both of them have similar symptoms.

John Brancato, MD,
Division Head, Emergency Medicine, Connecticut Children's

When should my child go to the emergency room for a heat-related illness?

When in doubt, come see us. Connecticut Children’s Emergency Medicine team is here 24/7.

Yes, it can be tricky sometimes to tell the difference between heat stroke heat exhaustion because both of them have similar symptoms. Keep the list above handy.

If your child does visit the emergency department for heat-related illness, their care team will:

  • Apply cold—this can be in the form of ice packs or a cool, moist cloth. The idea is to cool the body off, so sometimes they may need to remove their clothing to help.
  • Measure electrolytes—this can be done by blood or urine test and it determines how dehydrated the body is and what it needs to get back to a normal balance.
  • Treat with IV fluids—this isn’t always done, but is sometimes needed to restore healthy electrolyte levels.
  • Send them home with helpful information for the whole family.

After any or all of these treatments, your child will most likely recover quickly.

How can you prevent heat-related illness? Remember these summer safety “rules of the road:”

  • Avoid too much sun exposure or vigorous outdoor activity between peak hours of 10 am to 2 pm.
  • Treat heat rash or sunburn, which in most cases, are minor. Ask your pediatrician if you aren’t sure.
  • Ask your child periodically how they’re feeling during their time outdoors, or make sure their coach or camp counselor is on the same page as you.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Getting enough water and/or electrolyte solution is extremely important. Do whatever it takes—even if that means funky water bottle decorations!

Here’s to staying healthy and enjoying summer!