Summer in the UAE is not just uncomfortable. It can be life-threatening for babies and children, who are more sensitive than adults to the effects of heat and humidity, such as heat stroke.
Their small bodies are unable to regulate temperature effectively, making it vital that parents and caregivers limit exposure to excessive heat and learn to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness.
Dr Eunice Adei, specialist pediatrician at Genesis Healthcare Center in Dubai, says that the evaporation of sweat is the most effective way to get rid of excess body heat. However this is not so easy for children.
“Children produce less sweat than adults and this makes it more difficult for them to release excess heat,” she says. “Children also have different body proportions to adults, with a larger surface area compared to their weight, and they are unable to adjust to changes in environmental heat as quickly as adults do, therefore their body temperature rises faster than adults.”
Excess exposure to heat can cause dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be life-threatening to children if severe, but are easily preventable. However, children are less likely than adults to drink enough fluids when they are outside in the heat.
“Dehydration and heat cramps are the early signs of heat-related conditions,” Dr Adei says. “Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat-related illness. Prolonged exposure to heat without enough hydration can eventually lead to heat exhaustion. If left untreated, heat stroke – the most severe heat-related illness – can occur. At this point, the body is not able to control its internal temperature and may reach very high temperatures above 40 degrees C.”
Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, cracked lips, increased thirst, reduced urine volume or dark urine, crying without tears and low energy levels – all of which improve after drinking fluids.
Heat cramps are severe muscle cramps and can include pain in the calf, thigh or stomach, as well as tightness or spasms in the hands. There is no fever, but a rapid improvement occurs after drinking fluids and cooling down.
The symptoms of heat exhaustion include a fever of 37.8 to 39 degrees Celsius, pale skin, profuse sweating, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, fainting or weakness and increased heart rate, while someone experiencing heat stroke will have a high fever (above 40 degrees C) with hot, flushed skin, confusion, extreme fatigue, possible loss of consciousness or coma, nausea and vomiting. Fifty per cent of children will not sweat.
The time it takes for a child to begin feeling the effects of heat depends on their age and weight, the air temperature and humidity levels and other factors such as how much physical activity they have been doing and how much fluid they have taken in.
“A young infant who is left in a hot car, for example, can develop heat exhaustion within an hour, but it may take several hours for older children to have significant effects from excessive heat exposure,” Dr Adei says.
Families can still enjoy the outdoors in summer by using common sense and taking a few simple measures to help keep their children safe.
“Always be aware of the temperature and humidity levels before allowing children to play outside,” she explains.
Temperatures above 50 degrees C and humidity above 30 percent are more likely to cause heat illness. Dr Adei advises dressing children in light-coloured, lightweight, loose clothing on hot and humid days, and protecting their skin with a high-SPF sunscreen and a hat when outdoors. Parents and caregivers should also ensure their children drink water regularly to remain hydrated and take rest breaks in shady or cool areas every 15 to 20 minutes.
“Avoid strenuous physical activity in hot weather,” she says. “It is better to schedule such activity in the evenings when it is cooler and spend more time indoors on hot and humid days.”
And finally, never ever leave children alone in a parked car, not even for a few minutes.
Symptoms of heat-related illness
|Dehydration||Heat cramps||Heat exhaustion||Heat stroke|
|Dry mouth, cracked lips||Severe muscle cramps||Fever of 37.8 – 39 degrees C||High fever (above 40 degrees C) with hot, flushed skin|
|Increased thirst||Pain in the calf or thigh||Pale skin||Confusion|
|Reduced urine volume or dark urine||Stomach pain||Profuse sweating||Extreme fatigue|
|No tears when crying||No fever||Nausea and vomiting||Loss of consciousness, coma|
|Low energy levels||Tightness or spasms in the hands||Dizziness, fainting or weakness||Nausea and vomiting|
|Symptoms improve after drinking fluids||Rapid improvement after drinking fluids and cooling down||Weakness, increased heart rate||50 percent of children will not sweat|
• This article originally ran on Livehealthy in summer 2019.