What to know when your child starts school during a deadly heat wave | CNN (2023)

What to know when your child starts school during a deadly heat wave | CNN (1)

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This is what happens to your body when temperatures soar

03:24 - Source: CNN


Millions of children are heading to school in August during the worst heat wave in recorded human history.

What to know when your child starts school during a deadly heat wave | CNN (2)

Children across the country are heading back to school during a dangerous heat wave.

Children in Atlanta and San Bernardino, California, kicked off their school year this week in temperatures well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

“We start to get into really dangerous territory when the heat index is greater than 90 degrees, because that’s a significant health threat for heatstroke and heat illness,” said pediatrician Dr. Lisa Patel, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health in California.

Many children in Phoenix and other cities in Maricopa County, Arizona, have started school despite recent temperatures up to 110 F (43 C) — so hot that people have gotten serious, even life-threatening burns from simply falling on the ground, as previously reported by CNN.

And children in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are also heading to class next week with forecasted highs around 100 F (37.8 C) and a heat index of 110 — which is what the heat feels like on the body.

“Keep in mind, this summer might be the coolest one for the rest of our lives as global warming intensifies,” said Patel, who also serves as executive director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.

“Yet children are among those at highest risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke,” she added.

What should parents and guardians do? Despite excessive heat, school is a necessity for a child’s emotional, mental, social and educational achievement, a lesson well learned during the pandemic, experts say.

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Worried families can best prepare their children to attend school in a heat wave by being aware of their school’s facilities and needs.

Don’t assume your child has access to cooling air

Over 40% of schools in the United States have no or inoperable HVAC, or central air conditioning systems, said Patel, lead author of a recent report on the state of climate resilience in California schools. Even those that do have functioning HVAC may suffer brownouts, or a short-term drop in voltage, as overtaxed, antiquated systems fail.

Ross D. Franklin/AP Summer of extreme heat rages on with more record-breaking temperatures possible

“From the 2021 ‘State of Our Schools Report,’ there is a $85 billion gap in our country where school facilities are and where they need to be,” according to Mike Pickens, executive director of the National Council on School Facilities.

“One of those deficiencies is the HVAC equipment has exceeded the cycle of its life expectancy,” Pickens said in an email. There are 8.1 billion square feet of school space in our country, so the HVAC and environmental issues are an enormous concern.”

Schools without central air conditioning in warmer climates often have alternate methods such as fans or window units to cool school rooms, at least to some extent, Patel said.

However, the use of fans in temperatures of 90 F (32 C) and higher can be dangerous instead of helpful, said Dr. Prabu Selvam, emergency medical officer at Americares, a health-focused relief and development nonprofit which has developed heat-related tip sheets for the public.

“If you have an electric fan blowing that 90 degree hot air at you, it can actually make you warm faster,” said Selvam, an emergency room doctor at Frederick Health Hospital in Frederick, Maryland.

Parents and guardians should also be aware that alternative cooling methods may not exist if their child’s school is in an area of the country not accustomed to hot weather, Patel said. This may leave teachers with no way to cool their classrooms.

“I live in San Francisco Unified and only five of the buildings across our entire district have HVAC systems — in fact the school my daughter attends has no way to cool the school,” Patel said.

Parents and caregivers should investigate the cooling conditions at their child’s school and advocate for change if needed, Patel said.

Teach your child the warning signs

Even if your child’s school is cool, many youngsters attend recess or participate in after-school activities that may be outdoors. Teaching children the warning signs of impending heat exhaustion can help them know when to alert an adult about their symptoms, Patel said.

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“Feeling faint, being very tired, having a headache, fever, intense thirst, nausea or vomiting, not urinating for many hours and muscle aches or spasms are all signs that the child is heading into danger,” she said.

A child exhibiting any signs of heat illness should be taken into air conditioning or shade immediately and be sprayed or given compresses of lukewarm or cool water, experts say. Emergency treatment may be necessary.

Focus on prevention

While much of the child’s day is spent in the school under the care of a teacher, there are actions families can take to help prevent heat illness.

Fresh water: Providing your child ready access to fresh water is a must, so send a thermos of cold water with your child each day, Selvam said. If classroom policies don’t allow children to easily refill their water bottle, consider sending two bottles of water with your child.

Replace lost minerals with food: It’s not just fluids. Parents and guardians should be sure their child has access to nourishing snacks like dried apricots, nuts and sunflower or pumpkin seeds that may help replace electrolytes lost during dehydration, such as phosphate, magnesium, potassium, chloride, calcium and sodium.

“Commercial electrolytes aren’t really necessary. You can take care of you and your child’s health by continuing to eat a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables,” Selvam said.

Emergency Medical Technicians William Dorsey and Omar Amezcua assist a person after he called in for chest pain on June 29, 2023 in Eagle Pass, Texas. Brandon Bell/Getty Images With climate change, health care providers should be more mindful of heat-related illness, doctors say

Spinach, broccoli, lentils, whole grains, leafy greens, avocados, mushrooms, zucchini, bananas and citrus fruits are all super sources of several of these minerals as well.

Dress your child appropriately. Light-colored clothing reflects sunlight and loose-fitting clothing allows air to move around the body, experts say.

“Dress your child in as little clothing as possible that is still appropriate,” Selvam said. “Avoiding unnecessary layers and accessories would be helpful.”

Pick breathable fabrics like cotton, or choose clothes made of a moisture-wicking fabric, such as those often worn by athletes.

Provide cool mists or presoaked cloths. Wetting the back of the neck, forehead and pulse points on the wrists can help cool the body as the moisture evaporates. If the school allows, parents and guardians can send premoistened washcloths, a cooling neck wrap or a misting device to school with their child.

However, that may not work in areas of high humidity and heat, like the South and parts of Texas, where the air is already saturated with moisture.

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“When the environment is humid, the ability for us to sweat diminishes because the sweat really has nowhere to go,” Selvam said. “And if we lose that ability to allow heat to escape from our body, that really puts us in danger.”

Put your child in AC for a few hours each day. The body needs time to recover from extreme heat, which may be difficult in parts of the country where nighttime heat is staying above 90 F (32 C), Selvam said.

“If a child does not have air conditioning at school and at home, they need to be taken to a public location, like a library or a cooling center or a mall, to get some hours in with air conditioning,” he said.

Electric fan in-front of an unmade bed with light coming through a window brazzo/iStockphoto/Getty Images How to sleep in a heat wave, according to experts

How much time the child needs to spend in cooled environment will depend on temperature and humidity levels, the child’s preexisting medical conditions, activity levels, their degree of hydration, and more, Selvam said.

“Consider modifying the home and sleep environment as well. If you have a basement, sleep there or on the lower level of your home because heat rises. Minimizing the use of a stove or oven too close to bedtime because that can increase the indoor temperature in your home.”

Children with chronic conditions need extra help

Children with diabetes, asthma or other respiratory conditions may need extra precautions, Patel said.

“Kids with diabetes tend to get dehydrated more quickly, and higher temperatures can also change their insulin needs,” she said, “so those kids should be testing their blood sugars more often.”

Insulin needs to remain refrigerated, which means parents and guardians should ask their school nurse about a backup plan to keep the medications cool during a brownout.

“Asthmatics are also at higher risk during heat waves and albuterol needs to be kept within a certain temperature range. So do epinephrine auto-injector pens for those children with life-threatening allergies,” Patel said.

“If you’re in a school that doesn’t have air conditioning, or you’re worried that those medications are not being safely stored, I would question the integrity of those medications and replace them when the heat wave is over.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the hospital at which Dr. Selvam works.

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What to do when a child is overheated? ›

What to Do: A cool place, rest, and fluids should help a child feel better. Give water or fluids that contain salt and sugar, such as sports drinks.

What are the first signs of heat exhaustion? ›

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Weakness.
  • Irritability.
  • Thirst.
  • Heavy sweating.
  • Elevated body temperature.

What are some tips to do or go during a time of heat waves? ›

Take cool showers or baths.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Use your oven less to help reduce the temperature in your home.
  • If you're outside, find shade. ...
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Avoid high-energy activities or work outdoors, during midday heat, if possible.

What is a heat wave facts for kids? ›

A heat wave is a period of unusually hot weather that typically lasts two or more days. To be considered a heat wave, the temperatures have to be outside the historical averages for a given area.

What are the 4 stages of heat exhaustion? ›

Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. All three stages of heat emergency are serious. If you live in hot climates or play sports in the summertime, you should know how to spot the symptoms of heat emergency.

What are three symptoms of heat exhaustion in children? ›

Your child cannot keep fluids down. After returning to normal activities, your child has symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as sweating a lot, fatigue, dizziness, or nausea.

What is the most serious symptom of heat exhaustion? ›

If you're with someone who has heat exhaustion, seek immediate medical help if they become confused or distressed, lose consciousness, or are unable to drink. If their core body temperature — measured by a rectal thermometer — reaches 104 F (40 C) or higher, they need immediate cooling and urgent medical attention.

What are the 7 signs symptoms of heat exhaustion? ›

Heat Exhaustion
  • Symptoms: Heavy sweating, Weakness or tiredness, cool, pale, clammy skin; fast, weak pulse, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache, fainting,
  • First Aid: Move person to a cooler environment, preferably a well air conditioned room. Loosen clothing.

What are the top three signs of heat exhaustion? ›

The most common signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
  • Confusion.
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
  • Dizziness.
  • Fainting.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps.
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Mar 20, 2023

What not to do during a heatwave? ›

Avoid strenuous activities when the outside temperature is high. Avoid working outside between 12 noon and 3 p.m. While travelling, carry water with you. Avoid alcohol, tea, coffee and carbonated soft drinks, which dehydrates the body.

Do fans help in a heatwave? ›

When indoor air temperatures are hotter than about 95 °F: Fan use may cause your body to gain heat instead of lose it. On very hot, humid days, sweat evaporates off the skin slower than normal, and fans make it even more difficult for the body to lose heat by sweating.

What indoor temperature is too hot for humans? ›

People often point to a study published in 2010 that estimated that a wet-bulb temperature of 35 C – equal to 95 F at 100% humidity, or 115 F at 50% humidity – would be the upper limit of safety, beyond which the human body can no longer cool itself by evaporating sweat from the surface of the body to maintain a stable ...

What are 3 effects of heat waves? ›

Heat can cause severe dehydration, acute cerebrovascular accidents and contribute to thrombogenesis (blood clots). People with chronic diseases that take daily medications have a greater risk of complications and death during a heatwave, as do older people and children.

How do heatwaves happen for kids? ›

Heat waves result from warm air being trapped in the atmosphere and are a natural weather phenomenon. Heat waves are increasing in intensity and frequency due to climate change, resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, that is trapping heat for longer.

When should I take my child to the ER for heat exhaustion? ›

A person can progress from heat exhaustion to heatstroke. So, all patients with severe symptoms (such as fainting) need to be seen now. Mild symptoms (such as dizziness) can be treated at home with fluids and rest. But, if these don't resolve with treatment, these children also need to be seen.

How can I cool my child's body down? ›

Cold drinks, light clothing and light bedding can have a cooling effect too. You can also fan the child, dab them with a wet sponge or cloth, or open the window. It's important to always make sure the child feels comfortable, and that he or she isn't getting too cold.

How long does it take for a child to recover from heat exhaustion? ›

Prognosis/Possible Complications. If you avoid heat stroke, recovering from heat exhaustion usually takes 24 to 48 hours.

What are the symptoms of overheating in a child? ›

If your little one is playing in the sun, watch out for these telltale heat exhaustion symptoms:
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Irritability.
  • Dizziness/fainting.
  • Pale skin.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Increased thirst.
Nov 23, 2022


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