Outdoor safety in summer heat
Suzanne Nielsen, MD is a Banner Children's physician at Banner Health Center in Gilbert. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor or call Dr. Nielsen’s office at (480) 649-6600.
Q: Is it safe for my children to play outside in high temperatures? What precautions should I take?
Children have a lower heat tolerance than adults, mainly because their bodies are still developing. Their sweat glands are immature so the body’s natural cooling system can’t work as efficiently. Also, their body temperatures rise faster and they generate more heat for their body weight than adults do.
High temperatures can last well beyond the summer months in Arizona, and active children don’t want to be house-bound. However, when playing outside in hot weather, certain precautions are necessary to keep kids safe. Always have access to a cool, air-conditioned space, such as a house, library, museum or mall. Make sure your children are well hydrated; even if they don’t request it, give them water before, during and after play. Use plenty of sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and reapply it every two hours or after water play or exercise. Dress your children in lightweight, moisture-wicking clothes in light colors that reflect heat rather than absorb it.
Help kids get used to rising temperatures by reducing activity levels and spending short amounts of time outside; gradually increase the time as their bodies adjust. Try to spend time outdoors before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. when the sun isn’t as strong. Heat can make kids feel tired, so let your kids rest and use a cool bath to bring their temperatures down. Remember, though swimming or water play can help keep kids cooler, they still need adequate hydration, sunscreen and rest.
Exposure to high heat can make kids sick, so watch for the first signs of heat illness. Call your doctor immediately if your child becomes overly tired, lethargic or faint; suffers from headache, nausea, muscle aches or vomiting; experiences extreme thirst or fever; or begins breathing differently.