by Dr. Deanna Bell, Pediatric Hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial

Before you send the kids out to practice in the summer heat — or just for a long day of play in the sun — be sure you know how to recognize symptoms of dehydration and heat illness and what to do if your child becomes ill.

Children get dehydrated if they do not replace body fluids lost by sweating. Being even a little dehydrated can make a child feel bad and practice and play less effectively.

Signs of dehydration may include:

  • Dry lips and tongue
  • Dry cough
  • Sunken eyes
  • Bright colored or dark urine, or urine with a strong odor
  • Infrequent urination
  • Small volume of urine
  • Apathy or lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Sudden decline in performance

If your child experiences symptoms of dehydration move them to a shaded or air-conditioned area and give him or her fluids to drink.

Untreated dehydration can lead to three worse types of heat illness:

  • Heat cramps: Painful cramps of the abdominal muscles, arms, or legs.
  • Heat exhaustion: Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, weakness, muscle pain, and sometimes unconsciousness.
  • Heat stroke: A temperature of 104 F or higher and severe symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, seizures, disorientation or delirium, lack of sweating, shortness of breath, unconsciousness, and coma.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion is always an emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Any child with any heat illness should be rushed to the nearest hospital. While waiting for medical attention, get the child out of the sun into a cool, comfortable place. Have the child start drinking plenty of cool fluids. The child should also take off any excess layers of clothing or bulky equipment. You can put cool, wet clothes on overheated skin. In cases of heat cramps, gentle stretches to the affected muscle should relieve the pain.

Avoiding heat illness:

  • Encourage fluids and breakfast prior to training or practice.
  • Schedule training or practice during cooler periods of the day.
  • Gradually expose athletes to exercise in warmer temperatures and allow 2 hours between workouts.
  • Recognize athletes recovering from illness (colds, diarrhea) and allow 2 hours between workouts.

Remember to monitor your child carefully during and after practice and play. Kids suffering from heat illness should not be allowed back on the field the same day.

Dr. Deanna Bell is a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial in Nashville, TN.