Causes: Extreme temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity or intense sunlight, can interfere with the body's normal ways of regulating temperature, said pediatrician Stephen Rice, who co-authored the American Academy of Pediatrics' 2011 statement on heat sickness in children. Heat illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke, occur mostly outside and during the summer but can happen anytime or anywhere, Rice said.
Signs and symptoms: Children who are getting overheated might look flushed or feel lightheaded. Heat illness can also cause dry mouth, fatigue, a decrease in performance level or attention span and excessive sweatiness, Rice said. When humidity is high, sweat can't evaporate. That prevents the body from cooling.
Sweating is "really the best method of cooling we have," Rice said. "If you grab a towel and keep wiping yourself off, you've lost a chance to cool off. It's not the production of sweat but evaporation of sweat that cools you."
Treatment: Get the child to the shade as soon as possible, Rice said. Coaches should be prepared to cool someone down rapidly if necessary, including having cold, wet towels and washcloths and ice packs to apply to the child's neck, armpits and groin.
Start the cooling process immediately, Rice said, even if you are calling 911. Don't wait for medical help to arrive.
Prevention: Drink plenty of water before and stay hydrated during physical activity. The AAP recommends that children ages 9 to 12 drink three to eight ounces of water every 20 minutes. Adolescents should drink 34 to 50 ounces of water an hour while they are exercising in the heat. Encourage children to drink water before and after practices or games.
Other ways to prevent heat illness include gradually building up workouts so the child can get used to exercising in warm weather. Adjust the practice schedule, activities and expectations to match the weather conditions, Rice said, and allow at least two hours of rest between practice sessions.