We all know that we should keep children (and ourselves) cool in summer to prevent heat stress or any other heat related problems. But what can you do as a parent, teacher or carer to ensure your children enjoy the heat, but don’t suffer because of it? Here are our top 5 tips.
Tip 1: Understand your child’s medical conditions and medications
Preventing heat stress is essential for all children, but especially some with SEND. Some medial conditions can increase the risk of dehydration or can affect electrolyte balance. If you’re not sure whether your children are at risk from this, you should check with your GP or specialist as this is something you should be well informed on so that you can be prepared during hot weather. For example, some neurological conditions can interfere with appropriate sweating or the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Children with medical conditions such as anhidrosis (lack of ability to sweat) or hypohidrosis (reduced ability to sweat) can become severely overheated very quickly at temperatures that might feel mild to you. Some medications might also affect metabolism, appetite or urination (for example if the medication acts as a diuretic), so you should be aware of how any medications might affect your child’s ability to cope with hot weather.
Tip 2: Use sunscreen, and often!
Even mild sunburn (you can tell if this is happening if the skin appears pink and warm to the touch) will hinder the body’s efforts to keep a child cool and maintain fluid balance, so make sure you use plenty of sunscreen. Even on cloudy days (did you know that 80% of UV rays can still penetrate cloud and reach your child’s skin?) you should make sure you apply sunscreen BEFORE sun exposure and often during time outdoors. Darker coloured clothing also helps to prevent sun exposure to the skin (because light coloured fabrics allow UV penetration). Keeping children indoors during the middle of the day when the sun is at it’s most intense is also a good idea. Try to encourage your child to wear a hat and sunglasses and do your best to provide shade. Remember that shade alone does not prevent UV radiation from reaching your children unless the fabric is treated specially for this purpose.
Tip 3: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, then hydrate some more!
Preventing heat stress can be helped by staying as hydrated as possible. Even if they don’t seem to be sweating much, lots of fluids will be lost through water vapour escaping through the mouth and skin. Milk is actually one of the most hydrating beverages you can provide, because it’s electrolyte content allows the fluids to be easily absorbed by the body, so make fresh milkshakes with fruit – you can even involve your children in making them to encourage them to drink readily! Failing that, offer frequent water or diluted fruit juice and do all you can to ensure that your child stays hydrated. Parents, teachers or carers can also help by setting a good example and doing the same! If your child is tube fed, ask the GP or specialist for guidelines on how much and what type of extra fluid you should give if your child will be exposed to hot weather. If your child cannot communicate his needs or you know there will be problems surrounding making him drink extra fluids then create a hot weather hydration plan with a physician or therapist.
Peeing less often, dark or strong smelling urine, or crying without tears are warning signs of dehydration.
Tip 4: Cool off often
If you are having a long day in the sun, make sure you have access to shade – this could be a beach tent, sitting under trees or going for lunch somewhere with air conditioning. Giving the body a chance to cool off will help with preventing heat stress on the body. If your child needs to wear compression garments then these will trap heat and prevent sweat evaporation, so removing them frequently may help. You can also get hold of cooling garments which help to keep the body cool. It’s a good idea to check with your GP or specialist first before investing in these though. Portable fans are useful for keeping cool, as are water sprays/misters if your child will tolerate you using them! The most effective way to cool down quickly is to get the body wet, and then introduce wind (a fan is fine). This will cause evaporation which will remove heat from the body quickly.
Tip 5: Monitor water sports
Playing in water is not the same as drinking water. This is a good thing since water = toilet to many children! Frequent hydration breaks are still necessary. Water reflects UV rays, even on cloudy days. Sunburn happens more quickly in and near the water. Wet clothes are less effective at blocking UV rays than dry clothes, and most swim suits do NOT contain UV filters – so this is something to be aware of – your child will need sunscreen on UNDER their swim suit as well as on exposed skin. If the water temperature is less than the air temperature increased urination and dehydration can occur, even on a hot day or while wearing a full or partial wetsuit.
Preventing heat stress is important – enjoy the sun, but do it safely
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