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Plan ahead to keep your kids safe in the heat

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  July 23, 2013 07:56 AM

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sun.jpgLast week we had record high temperatures--it was 99 in Boston on Friday, although the thermometer in my car said 101 when I was driving home. Saturday we decided to spend the day in our air-conditioned living room. We read, did summer math work, and played with toys. 

It felt weird not to be getting my kids out to do some sort of activity on a weekend day. But actually, indoors in air-conditioning is where the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say you should be when the temperatures climb really high. So that's how we planned our day.

Heat can be dangerous. Besides making you feel sweaty and tired and uncomfortable, it can cause dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Heat can kill--and every year there are the horrible stories of babies dying in cars, the elderly dying in hot apartments or hikers dying because they were overcome by heat. And so often, people get caught off guard. They don't expect things to be so bad--and they aren't prepared.

This week has been better, thank goodness.It's been a lovely reprieve. But we are likely to have some more really hot days ahead. Here's how to use some advice from the AAP and the CDC to keep your family safe (and comfortable) when the heat hits again:

  • Read the weather report. I know, I know, here in New England it's often not exactly correct. That's New England weather for you. But it's your best starting place. 
  • Know what is too hot for you and your family. For everybody, once you get into the high 80's it gets uncomfortable, but the very young, the very old and people with some medical conditions may get into trouble before that.
  • If it's really hot, plan to stay in a cool place as much as possible, preferably an air-conditioned place (don't count on a fan to cool you down). If you don't have air-conditioning at home, go someplace that does have it--like a library, museum, or mall. 
  • If you choose to be outside, try to do it earlier or later in the day, not when the sun is at its peak.
  • Dress your kids in lightweight, light-colored clothing. Really, that white shirt can make a difference.
  • If you are outside, try to stay in the shade. Think about this as you plan your outings; some places have more shade than others. Think about bringing your own shade, like a beach umbrella or little collapsible tent.
  • Pack or buy water to drink, and have everyone drink regularly. Avoid sugared or caffeinated beverages--they can end up making you feel worse.
  • Get wet. That might be a pool, beach, sprinkler, fountain or hose if you are outside--or a cool bath or shower when you get home.
  • Know that everyone will feel more tired. Don't ask or expect much from anyone. Cut kids slack if they get cranky (and plan for crankiness).
  • Whatever you do, never leave a child in a car, even if the windows are down. It can get dangerously hot very fast.
None of these is complicated--and each can go a long way toward making sure that everyone is safe and comfortable in the heat. But they may involve some advanced planning--so make that planning part of your summer.
Remember, too, to check on any of your friends and neighbors who might be at risk from the heat, like the elderly or those with medical conditions. If you have air-conditioning and they don't, invite them over; set a good example for your children by teaching them to care for others.

Here in Massachusetts there are lots of state-run beaches and pools to visit to cool off and play. We spend a lot of time at the one near us! 

Thumbnail image for kids at pool.jpg

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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