Dehydration and Heat Illnesses in Children

Raj Makim, MD

Orthopedic Associates of Port Huron

Sports Medicine Physician, AYSO Region 161

If there is one word to describe the weather during our spring soccer season here in Michigan, it would be “unpredictable.”  Often, rain will accompany us during practices and games.  Extreme heat is not something we usually need to worry about.  However, children can still become dehydrated in any weather condition. Sweating is our bodies’ natural cooling mechanism; we lose water and salt through the pores of our skin.  Kids who play sports in the sun, especially an extremely taxing running sport like soccer, can be at risk for heat illnesses because they generate more heat and sweat less than adults.  This makes it harder for children to cool down.  Others at risk for dehydration and heat illness are those who have a low level of fitness, who are overweight, who have had a previous heat related illness, and who are sick or on certain medications.

Dehydration occurs when the body fluids lost from sweating are not replaced.  This is the first stage of heat related illness that can go on to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and finally heat stroke.  When dehydration prevents adequate sweating and cooling, heat is retained in the body.  This causes body temperature to rise, leading to exhaustion and muscle cramping, usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs.  Headache is a common sign. Fainting can occur (heat syncope).  Core temperature above 104 F often triggers heat stroke, which can cause the brain to stop functioning normally.  This can cause nausea, seizures, confusion, unconsciousness, and even death.  Prevention certainly is better than cure!

I recommend getting fluid in the child’s system well before and during athletic activity.  About an hour or so before practice or a game starts, have your child drink at least 12 oz of a sports drink, water, or fruit juice.  Bigger and older kids need extra fluid.  During practice in the basic “predictable” sunny Michigan day, with humidity of 60% and temperature 80 degrees, children should receive a 5-10 minute rest and fluid break every 25-30 minutes of activity.  This can be modified based on the ambient temperature and humidity, which is summarized as the “heat index.”  Arm yourself with this information and hydrate accordingly.

Have fun out there, and  THINK DRINK!