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Protecting Children and Older Adults from the Dangers of Excessive Summer Temperatures

Hot summer sun

When temperatures reach extreme levels, the intense heat can be dangerous. Heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses can cause serious health problems, especially for infants, young children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, what to do if someone has them, and also how to keep cool and remain healthy when temperatures are high. The best way to avoid heat-related illnesses is to create a cool, healthy environment and avoid spending time outdoors or in other places where temperatures are high. Recommended tips include:

  • Make sure everyone stays hydrated. Infants and small children are not able to ask for more to drink, so make sure everyone is drinking enough, even if they aren’t thirsty. Heavy sweating also removes essential salt and minerals from the body. The easiest and safest way to replace them is to drink fruit juice or a sports beverage. Avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
  • Stay indoors in extreme heat conditions, ideally in an air–conditioned place. If air conditioning is not available in the home, open windows and shades on the shady side of the home and close them on the sunny side, which may help cool temperatures inside. Spending a few hours at an air conditioned public place such as a public library, mall or even the grocery store, can help you stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
  • If you go outdoors, make sure everyone is wearing sunscreen with a high sun protector factor rating (at least SPF 15), a hat and loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored clothing. Cover as much skin as possible to avoid sunburn and over-warming effects of sunlight. Stay out of the sun as much as possible.
  • Never leave children, pets or those who require special care in a parked car or vehicle for any amount of time during periods of intense summer heat. Temperatures inside a closed vehicle can reach over 140 degrees Fahrenheit quickly. Exposure to such high temperatures can kill within a matter of minutes.
  • When someone is feeling hot, a cool bath, shower or water mist will help keep body temperatures at safe levels.
  • Plan for more time to rest than usual. Heat can often make children feel tired.
  • Check on individual children in care often to assess their condition, especially those who have special needs.


Heat-related illnesses occur when the body is unable to cool itself through perspiration. Common forms of heat–related illness are heat stroke (or sunstroke), heat exhaustion and heat cramps:

Heat stroke (or sun stroke) is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include hot, dry and red skin; a rapid pulse; a body temperature above 103 degrees F; loss of alertness; confusion; unconsciousness or coma; or rapid/shallow breathing. If any of these symptoms are present, immediately call 911 and the parent – this is a medical emergency. While waiting for medical assistance to arrive, move the child to a cool place, use an air conditioner or fan, and apply wet sponges. Wrapped ice packs may be placed on the neck, wrists, ankles or armpits to help cool the body temperature. Do not give the heat stroke victim fluids. Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke, and is often caused by overexertion in hot or humid temperatures. Symptoms include heavy sweating; fainting; cold, pale and clammy skin; dizziness or headaches; nausea or vomiting; fainting and weakness. If symptoms occur, the victim should be moved to a cool area out of direct sunlight. Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible and give sips of water to the individual every 15 minutes for one hour. If vomiting occurs, immediately stop giving the water and seek medical attention immediately and call parent. Sunburn slows the skin’’s ability to cool itself. Signals include redness and pain; in severe cases, swelling of skin, blisters, fever, and headaches can occur. Ointments can be a relief for pain in mild cases. A physician should see serious cases. Call parent if symptoms are severe. Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms caused by heavy exertion. Loss of water and salt from sweating causes cramping. Signals are abdominal and leg muscle pain. Relief can be firm pressure on cramping muscles, or gentle massages to relieve cramping. Heat cramps are characterized by painful spasms, usually in muscles of the legs and abdomen and by heavy sweating. To relieve heat cramps, apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage the muscles. And as in the case of heat exhaustion, give sips of water every 15 minutes for one hour. Call parent if symptoms are severe and the child can’t participate in activities. Heat rash is a skin irritation that appears as a red cluster of pimples or small blisters, and is the least serious heat-related illness. A person should be moved to a cool place and the affected area should be kept dry. Talcum powder may be used to promote comfort. Report symptoms to parent at pick up time. Don’t forget about children’s mental health, too. Children may become anxious or restless from being kept indoors. You may want to plan ahead for indoor entertainment and games. Children may also become fearful or stressed from effects of the heat. Reassure children that many people are working to keep them safe. Children take their cues from their parents and caregivers, so remember to keep calm and answer their questions openly and honestly. Keep in mind not to share more than is appropriate for their age.