WITH temperatures already soaring and meteorologists predicting that it has not yet reached its peak, paediatrician Dr Anona Griffith is warning parents to implement measures to protect their little ones from heat-related illnesses, such as dehydration.
“Dehydration is a condition that occurs when a person loses more fluids than he or she consumes, and as a result, the body is unable to carry out its normal functions. Unfortunately, children — especially active ones — are at a greater risk of dehydration,” Dr Griffith said.
She explained that the condition, which may range from mild to severe, is a much greater risk for tiny tots because they produce more heat when they are active and sweat significantly less than adults, thereby reducing their body's ability to rid itself of excess heat.
Fortunately, there are a number of preventative measures that parents can put in place to ensure that their children do not become dehydrated. Check out a few of them below:
Offer water often
Offer plenty of water and more often than you normally would, in the summertime. Summer is that time of year when children get to be outdoor a lot, and as parents, you know that they will play for hours without taking a break — even when they are thirsty. It is your job to ensure that you, or whoever is taking care of them, understand that they cannot be allowed to do this.
Since water might be unappealing to many children, you can add pieces of fruit to it, or freeze juice in ice cubes or ice trays that have the shapes of cartoon characters, or get them special, appealing water bottles to encourage them to drink more.
Children might not always want water, so you can use the opportunity to integrate other essential nutrients. Some fruits, such as watermelon, cucumber, strawberries and cantaloupe, have very high water content, so consider offering these as snacks and/or with meals throughout the day.
Popsicles and more popsicles
Plenty popsicles sound like more sugar than you want your children to have, but you can use fruits and vegetables to make popsicles. All you need to do is buy a set of popsicle containers, make the drink overnight, and freeze them so they will be ready for your child(ren) the next day.
You can alternate popsicles with water and fruits.
Offer sports drinks sparingly
No, this should not replace water altogether just because it helps with hydration.
However, sports drinks serve their purpose, because they are packed with properties that fuel an active body, such as electrolytes.
On the downside though, they can also have a high sugar content. To increase their interest in staying hydrated, you can include a little in your children's daily hydration plan.
Schedule water breaks
Unfortunately, many parents wait for their children to tell them that they are thirsty before giving them fluids. Once your child is thirsty, it means that he/she is at least mildly dehydrated, because thirst is a sign of dehydration.
So what you want to do is aim to refuel your children with fluids at least every 20 minutes, as recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics. Make this a habit so that, over time, even when you are away, they might not wait as long as they usually would before rehydrating.
Dress children for the weather
It's summer, it's hot and you don't want to trap heat on your child's body.
Go for lighter clothing, both in weight and colour, during the summer months, that is made of breathable fabric like cotton. Choosing breathable clothing will encourage heat to dissipate.
Choose cooler places
Since its summer, chances are your children will be exposed to some amount of sun (both directly and indirectly). As best as possible, you want to limit this exposure, especially when temperatures are high.
If they must play outside, go to areas that have plenty shade. Encourage children to play indoors when the sun is at its peak, then they can go outdoors to play in the mid to late afternoon when it is cooler.
According to Dr Griffith, some of the telltale signs of dehydration include extreme thirst, sweating more than usual, decreased saliva or dry mouth, decreased or absent tears, sunken eyes and decreased activity.
“As soon as you realise that the child is dehydrated, start introducing fluids into his or her system, preferably water. In the case of an infant, breastfeeding should be continued and encouraged. In addition, oral electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte may also be used to rehydrate the child. This will reduce the possibility of serious complications such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” Dr Griffith advised.
Should the child stop producing urine, start to vomit, become extremely irritable, sleep excessively (extreme fatigue), or stop sweating altogether or lose consciousness, then these signs suggest that the child is severely dehydrated and requires immediate medical attention. In this case, Dr Griffith says intravenous therapy is usually given.