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Ask Dr. Nandi: How to keep kids healthy while playing outside during a heatwave

Close up of boy drawing with chalks
Posted at 5:19 PM, Jun 19, 2024

(WXYZ) — Extreme heat can be especially dangerous to children. As the high temperatures continue, how safe is it for children to play outdoors?

People often view kids as miniature adults, but their bodies handle heat differently.

I’m a parent of three young children who love playing outside during summertime, even in a heatwave. So, I understand the concerns.

While kids can still have fun outdoors, it’s important to take precautions. That’s because high temperatures can be risky for everyone's health, putting stress on the heart, kidney and other organs.

However, children are particularly vulnerable for a few reasons. They take longer than adults to get used to hot weather. And due to their smaller size, heat can raise their core temperature faster than in adults.

Also, kids have a harder time regulating their body temperature and don’t sweat as much as adults, even though they produce more body heat when they're active.

Not to mention, kids are often too busy playing to notice they’re thirsty. By the time they feel thirsty, they’re already dehydrated.

Untreated dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion. That’s when the body gets too hot and overheats. If this is not treated, it can progress to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. That means the body’s core temperature has reached 104°F or higher, and this can lead to organ failure or even death.

I often get asked how much water children need.

At around 6 months of age, babies can start drinking 4 ounces to 8 ounces of water a day until they turn 1 year old.

Children ages 1 to 3 should aim for about 4 cups of beverages daily, including water or milk. This increases to about 5 cups for children ages 4 to 8 and 7 cups to 8 cups for older children.

During outdoor activities, tweens should drink 3 ounces to 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes, while older kids should aim for 34 ounces per hour.

Of course, these amounts will vary based on heat and humidity levels. A good way to see if your child is hydrated is to check urine color — light yellow is OK, while dark yellow or orange suggests dehydration.

For clothing, light-colored, lightweight clothes are best. Always encourage children to drink water before going outside but avoid sugary and caffeinated drinks in extreme heat as they can lead to dehydration. Also limit outdoor time during the hottest hours.

If you notice changes in your child’s behavior or symptoms such as headaches, increased thirst, nausea, weakness or lethargy due to heat, please have them drink water and cool down as quickly as possible. A cool shower or immersion of feet or arms in cold water can help lower body temperature.

Lastly, call 911 immediately if a child shows signs of heat stroke such as high body temperature, confusion, seizures, dizziness, rapid breathing and loss of consciousness.