Preventing Heat Exhaustion

Preventing heat exhaustion is an important concern for parents of small during the summer months. Heat Exhaustion is one of three heat-related conditions, the other two being Heat Cramps and Heatstroke. Heat cramps are the mildest of the three conditions.  Heat cramps, left untreated, can turn into heat exhaustion, which can turn into heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition.

Infants and children up to the age of four are in the high risk group for heat exhaustion. Very young children may not know how to tell their parents that something is wrong, so parents must be extra watchful when temperatures climb. The basic symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Weakness
  • Cold, pale, moist skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dark-colored urine and urinating less often than usual
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Pale skin
  • Confusion
  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

In preventing heat exhaustion, it’s important to look at the causes of the condition. Heat exhaustion is caused by losing body fluids and salts. The loss of these fluids and salts is what happens when a person is stuck in the heat for a long time, for instance, while spending the day outside on a very hot day. When the weather is not just hot but humid, the risk for heat exhaustion goes up. Getting physical when it’s hot and humid, for instance, doing a workout out of doors on a hot, damp day, is a triple whammy, raising the risk of heat exhaustion even more.

Little kids age 4 and under don’t generally do workouts out of doors. But they do, for instance, tour amusement parks with their parents in summer. That’s when parents need to be on the alert to watch for any signs of heat exhaustion. Preventing heat exhaustion means preventing heatstroke, which is serious.


Sweaty girl, heat exhaustion
She may not know how to say the words, “Mommy, I’m too hot.”

In preventing heat exhaustion, it’s important to know that the risk for heat exhaustion shoots up in temperatures of 26° C or 78° F. You want to pay attention to what the high temperature will be when you listen to or read the weather forecast. If you live in the city, and there’s a heat wave (when temperatures are higher than normal for at least a few days in a row), you’ll have to be extra careful about watching for and preventing heat exhaustion in your small children.

Preventing Heat Exhaustion

Once you know what causes heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, common sense can go a long way toward keeping your children safe from heat-related illness. You’ll want to make sure that children are not out of doors for lengthy periods of time in hot humid weather. If you have to be out of doors with them, try to give them breaks from the heat by popping into an air-conditioned building, such as a restaurant, whenever you can.

Don’t make little kids walk in the heat. Push them in strollers, even if they’re a little old for that. Give them sports drinks or homemade drinks that can help replace the fluids and salts they lose from sweating in the heat. And never leave children in a closed car, even for a few minutes.

Stay inside if you can, and use an air conditioner to keep temperatures cool ( you can get more info here on how to pick the best air conditioner ). If you have to be out of doors with your children, work toward preventing heat exhaustion with these tips:

  • Dress them in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothes made of natural fabrics like cotton
  • Have them wear hats with wide brims
  • Make sure to put sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 on your children and to reapply it often
  • Watch to make sure your children drink at least eight glasses of liquid a day. Water is good, but juice or vegetable juice works, too. Sports or homemade rehydration drinks are a good addition when there’s a heat wave or the weather is hot and humid.
  • If kids have to be outside and exercising or working hard (for instance hiking), have them drink 750 ml (1.25 pints) of liquid two hours before they are due to leave and then another 225 ml (8 ounces) of either water or a sports drink, just before they begin the activity. While they are exercising or hiking, they should have another 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes, even if they aren’t complaining of thirst.
  • Don’t give kids drinks containing caffeine, for instance iced tea or cola. Caffeine (and alcohol, but let’s hope you don’t give THAT to your kids) makes the body lose fluids and can actually make heat exhaustion worse.
  • Never leave a child in a car. The temperature inside a car can climb 11° C (20° F) within ten minutes!
  • Download the free Kars4Kids Safety App to ensure you don’t leave baby behind in a closed car, even for a minute or two.

Preventing heat exhaustion is obviously the way to go, but sometimes in spite of a parent’s best efforts, heat exhaustion happens. When it does, the most important thing to do is to get your child out of the heat and have her rest in a cool room. If it’s impossible to go indoors, do the next best thing and find a shady place to rest.

Here are some other measures you can take in case of heat exhaustion:

  • Have the child drink lots of fluids, but these must not contain caffeine or alcohol
  • Take off any clothing you can, especially anything tight
  • Give the child a cool bath or sponge bath.
  • An air conditioned room is preferable to one with a fan, but a fan is better than nothing
  • If you have access to ice you can wrap it in towels or clothing (in a pinch) and use it to cool the child’s skin

If the child doesn’t feel any better within half an hour (30 minutes) of taking the above measures, get medical help (see a doctor or a nurse/medic or call an ambulance) to prevent heatstroke, a life threatening condition.

After a bout of heat exhaustion, your child will be more sensitive to hot weather for a week or so. Have the child stay indoors and avoid exerting herself until the doctor says it’s safe for her to go back to her normal routine.

little boy, heat exhaustion
Give him lots and lots to drink.

Take extra precautions with certain medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether the medications you take make you more susceptible to heat exhaustion and, if so, what you can do to keep your body from overheating.

Avoid hot spots. On a hot day, the temperature in your parked car can rise 20 F (11 C) in just 10 minutes. Let your car cool off before you drive it. Never leave children or anyone else in a parked car in hot weather for any period of time.

Let your body acclimate to the heat. If you travel to somewhere hot, or the temperatures suddenly jump in your area, it can take several weeks for your body to get used to the heat. You’ll still need to take precautions, but working or exercising in heat should become more tolerable. If you’re on vacation, you probably don’t have several weeks to wait, but it’s a good idea to wait at least a few days before attempting vigorous activity in the heat.

It’s best not to exercise or do any strenuous activity in hot weather, but if you must, follow the same precautions and rest frequently in a cool spot. Taking breaks and replenishing your fluids during that time will help your body regulate your temperature.

Did you know: the temperature inside a closed, parked car rises 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) every ten minutes. 

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Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.

Reader Interactions


  1. Aaron says

    This is so important for parents to be aware of, and on the watch for.
    Just a note, once someone is already experiencing heat exhaustion/dehydration- if the case is serious than it is best not to give them too much to drink as that could make them vomit. Giving them ample fluids at regular intervals is the way to go.