WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — With most of the D.C. area seeing temperatures near 100 degrees this week, it’s important for parents and caregivers to keep a close eye on their little ones.

Extreme heat affects children differently than adults

Dr. Yolandra Hancock, a pediatrician at Generational Health Center in Upper Marlboro, Md., said children cannot release heat the same way adults do.

“It takes longer for children to sweat which is our bodies way of cooling off,” Hancock said. “Children’s bodies are composed of more water than adults so in order for them to bring temperatures down it takes a lot more energy.”

Hancock said to be cognizant of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and its different stages. The first stage is what is called heat cramp where the body starts to cramp up and muscle starts to get tired.

“Little ones might not be able to recognize it as a cramp,” she said. “They may say their arms or legs hurt, so if that’s the case and you know they are in the heat, it is likely they are moving towards what we call heat exhaustion.”

Heat exhaustion is when the temperature of the body continues to rise and the body isn’t able to bring it down on its own, according to Hancock.

“Little ones and adults may start to get confused. They may get dizzy. They may get lightheaded. They actually may get chills, which is odd, especially in the face of heat,” Hancock said. “But if someone is complaining of chills or is having shivers while they are outdoors, that is a very significant sign that they are experiencing heat exhaustion and risk of what we call heat stroke,”

She said heat stroke develops when someone reaches an internal body temperature of 104 F or higher. It increases the risk of dizziness and possibly fainting. As the body continues to heat up, it may increase the possibility of organ damage as well.

“Various organ systems begin to shut down and that’s why the body ends up by protecting itself by passing out,” Hancock said. “You will actually no longer see them sweating because the body has shifted into a very protective mode in trying to bring that temperature down and that’s truly an emergency.”

Hancock has tips to prevent children from going into heat exhaustion and heat stroke. She said the first is to monitor how much water your child is drinking. “If we wait until a child is thirsty that is already a sign of mild dehydration,” she said.

Thirst is also a sign of mild dehydration and not just a signal they need to drink. Hancock said it’s important to capture the signs well before a heat stroke happens.

“Not only paying attention to how much they [children] are drinking, but making sure they are getting over half of their body weight in water in terms of ounces,” she said. 

For example, a 40 pound child, at minimum, will need 20 ounces, and if they go outside or if they’re physically active outdoors, make sure they are getting above that amount.

“We prefer water. A lot of times families feel like they need to give them electrolyte beverages.  That’s not necessary unless they are physically active playing sports like soccer or football and they are losing salt as they are outdoors,” she said.