By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Glaciers are now melting and retreating. In the past decade, Texas and rest of the United States have experienced some of the warmest annual temperatures ever recorded. In Galveston County, it’s already humid and beginning to feel sticky and hot. Soon the temperature may rise enough to be truly dangerous.

You don’t necessarily have to exercise or work outdoors to be threatened by the heat. Too often, older people die in homes or apartments that don’t have air-conditioning. Or they may have air-conditioning but don’t have the money to pay for the electricity to use it.

On hot, sunny days, infants and pets locked in parked vehicles with the windows rolled up may succumb to fast-rising temperatures while their parents or owners shop or run errands. Heat can kill whether you are active or a shut-in.

Parents may help their kids avoid heat stroke and other serious illness by getting them to practice some basic safeguards.

First, drink plenty of water.

Kids, especially, get preoccupied and forget to drink. Usually, it’s up to their moms, dads or parents of their friends to help them avoid dehydration on hot days. Active preteen children may lose up to a quart of sweat during two hours of activity when the outdoor temperature soars. Per pound of body weight, children actually produce more heat than adults do when they are active. Parents need to teach kids to drink regularly on hot days and not wait until they are thirsty. If they are going to practice vigorous sports, kids should be provided with non-carbonated fluids. Fluids are just as essential as helmets and kneepads for any sport practiced in the summer.

Children less than 90 pounds should drink 3 to 6 ounces of fluid one hour before activity. They should drink 3 to 5 ounces every 20 minutes while they are active, and to re-hydrate, up to 8 ounces per half-pound of weight loss after exercise. Kids more than 90 pounds need 6 to 12 ounces before exercise, 6 to 9 ounces every 20 minutes during activity, and 12 ounces of fluid per half-pound of water weight they lose after exercise.

Second, be aware of signs of heat illness.

Be on the alert if the relative humidity is 70 percent or higher and the temperature is 95 degrees or above. That describes many summer days along the Gulf Coast.

If kids complain of cramps or muscle spasms even though their temperature is normal, or if they show the symptoms of heat exhaustion — pale moist skin, headache, dizziness, nausea, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, elevated temperature or profuse sweating — they may be experiencing the heat illness that can turn into heat stroke.

If these symptoms appear, head for the shade or quickly move to an air-conditioned car or building. Stop all exertion and have the affected child drink lots of cool liquid — water or sports fluids. Remove any heavy clothing and bathe the body with cool water or cool the skin with a soaked towel to bring down the child’s temperature.

Warning signs of heat stroke include:

• Body temperature higher than 103 degrees.
• Red, hot, dry skin.
• No sweating.
• Rapid, strong pulse.
• Throbbing headache.
• Dizziness.
• Nausea.
• Confusion or unconsciousness.

Call for emergency help and cool the victim as much as possible. Encourage the child to drink fluids if he or she is conscious.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.