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Heat injury risks high for kids

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POSTED: July 19, 2012 7:00 a.m.
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Children should be required to take frequent water breaks when playing outdoors, according to pediatrician Dr. Phillip Ajayi of Phillips Pediatrics in Hinesville.

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Georgia is infamous for its triple-digit summers days, often with humidity above 75 percent.
Esther M. Sheppard, director of public support with the Southeast Georgia Chapter of the Red Cross, said everybody is at risk when temperatures soar above 90 degrees. She said more Americans die each year due to heat injuries than tornadoes, floods or hurricanes.
Risks are even greater for children to suffer heat-related injuries such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, according to pediatrician Dr. Phillip Ajayi of Phillips Pediatrics in Hinesville’s Liberty Medical Office Building.
“Children don’t realize they’re too hot and in danger,” said Ajayi, who is on staff at Liberty Regional Medical Center. “They don’t pay attention to the symptoms they’re having, like sweating or muscle aches until it really starts to hurt.”
He said children playing outdoors too long are susceptible to heat injuries because their body’s heat-regulating processes haven’t fully developed.
Also, their skin surface to weight ratio is high; they tend to take in more heat than their body can safely absorb.
Ajayi said parents, coaches and child care givers should limit outdoor playtime and practices to early mornings and late afternoons, and children should be required to take frequent water breaks.
When the heat index rises above 105 degrees, he suggests coaches and parents consider postponing play. Jimmy Martin, of the Liberty County Recreation Department, said they limit most outdoor activities during the summer.
He said summer camp instructors watch campers closely, ensuring they take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water. These safety guidelines will be followed in late August when football and soccer programs begin, he said.
Ajayi said children should never drink sodas, which contain caffeine, a diuretic and carbonation that may cause gastrointestinal distress, but mostly because sodas are unhealthy anyway.
He recommends water or power drinks that contain electrolytes and salts, which are lost through sweating. Drinks that contain lots of sugar should be avoided, he said.
Sheppard said the Red Cross defines heat cramps as muscle pains or spasms that are usually caused by prolonged exposure to heat and humidity with loss of fluids.
Ajayi called heat cramps a mild heat injury in which the body temperature can get up to 99 degrees. Cramping usually occurs in the calf muscles and hamstring, he said.
The Red Cross said heat exhaustion occurs when exercising under hot, humid conditions where excessive fluids are lost to sweating. Ajayi called heat exhaustion a moderate heat injury in which the body temperature can reach 104 degrees.
He said when children are sweating heavily and complaining of headaches, nausea or feeling faint, they should be brought indoors or to a cooler place where they should slowly drink lots of water.
Both the Red Cross and Ajayi emphasized that heat stroke is a medical emergency in which the body’s temperature-regulating system has stopped working. Ajayi said a body temperature above 104 degrees makes this a severe, life-threatening injury.
Warning signs for heat stroke include hot, dry skin, indicating the body is no longer producing sweat. There may also be a loss of consciousness, as well as rapid, weak pulse and rapid, shallow breathing.
Ajayi said immediately call 911 if a child is found with heat stroke symptoms then move him to a cooler, shaded place. Try to cool his body as quickly as possible, wrapping him in a wet sheet or running cool water over him.


 

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