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Woman drying sweat in a warm summer day
July 6, 2023

Keep Safe While Enjoying Summer Heat

ThedaCare Pediatrician Says to Watch for Signs of Exhaustion and Fatigue

Summertime is a season anticipated by people who have been more than ready to make plans for enjoying the warm weather. Going full steam into the season without remembering the danger that heat can pose could quickly lead to illness, injury or even more serious issues.

“Always watch for signs and symptoms that the heat may be impacting you or your child,” said Dr. Abby Smolcich, a pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy. “It’s particularly important for parents to keep an eye on young kids because their body temperature rises much faster than adults.”

Heat stroke or heat exhaustion can develop swiftly, particularly when people aren’t acclimated to hot weather. Each year, heat kills more than 700 people in the United States, with extreme heat posing the greatest risk to young children and seniors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 9,200 people each year are hospitalized due to heat illness.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can occur when a person loses excessive fluid and salt through sweating. For children, this can happen while playing in hot weather without replacing fluids.

“Children should always be protected with hydration, and that means ensuring they’re drinking enough water,” Dr. Smolcich said. “You also can serve them sliced fruits and vegetables like melon or cucumber to add even more water.”

Signs of dehydration might include diarrhea, vomiting or dark yellow urine. Kids can be given sips of clear drinks including Pedialyte, or ice chips and popsicles, to help them recover.

“Seek medical attention if your child appears severely dehydrated or the symptoms do not improve,” Dr. Smolcich said.

Kids also should be required to take occasional rest periods out of the sun. Ensuring they’re wearing light-colored, loose clothing can also help delay the onset of heat exhaustion.

“Before children go out to play or participate in sports, they should be protected with sunscreen,” Dr. Smolcich said. “Apply it about a half an hour before they go outside, and choose a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30.”

The sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and more often, especially after a child has been swimming or sweating.

“Even when kids are protected by sunscreen and water, parents should watch for signs their child is suffering heat exhaustion, which might look like irritability, fatigue, or loss of appetite,” Dr. Smolcich said.

Exercising in the Heat

In adults, heat exhaustion may appear as heavy sweating; cold, pale or clammy skin; a rapid pulse, muscle cramps, nausea, weakness or tiredness, and headache.

For those who plan to work out or play sports in the heat, try taking a cool shower before you start, and stay hydrated with sports drinks that contain electrolytes and potassium. Avoid strenuous activity outdoors between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun is at its most intense. Wear light-colored clothing to help deflect heat, and always wear sunscreen.

“If you do begin to have symptoms, or see someone else with symptoms, move the person to a cool place and trying to lower their temperature with cool compresses,” said Dr. Smolcich. “If their symptoms don’t improve after an hour, it’s time to seek medical care.”

People are more prone to developing heat exhaustion or heat stroke if they get dehydrated, something that can happen particularly fast if there’s alcohol involved. Caffeine also can accelerate dehydration, and certain prescription medications can increase sensitivity to sun exposure. Check with your provider or pharmacist if you have concerns.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when a person’s core temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit, producing more heat than it’s able to release. In both children and adults, symptoms might include:

  • Flushed, hot and dry skin without sweating.
  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Throbbing headache
  • Upset stomach, with nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Dizziness, confusion, irritability or loss of consciousness

“Heat stroke can damage the heart, brain and central nervous system without treatment,” Dr. Smolcich said. “If heat stroke is suspected, call 911 immediately.”

Move the person to a cooler place and use cool cloths or ice packs to try to cool them down. A cool bath, if available, can help. Don’t give someone suffering heat stroke anything to drink—they can’t safely consume anything while their consciousness is affected.

Car Seat Safety

About 40 children annually die in the U.S. from heatstroke after being left or being trapped inside hot cars, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 940 since 1998.

“More than half of these deaths come after someone forgets to remove the child from the car, often when they intended to take the child to daycare or preschool,” Dr. Smolcich said. “No parent thinks it will happen to them. It’s tragic, and it can happen when caregivers are fatigued and distracted, as we all have been.”

Some newer model vehicles are equipped with backseat reminder systems that issue a sound or alarm if a child or something is left behind. These systems also can be purchased separately and installed.                            

“Other safety precautions include always checking the backseat when you leave the car, and keeping the car locked even at home,” said Dr. Smolcich. “About 25% of children who die of heat in cars have climbed into an unattended vehicle.”  

Never leave your child alone in a parked car, even if you only intend to be gone for a few minutes. Leaving the windows rolled down doesn’t change the car’s interior temperature significantly.

If you see a child alone in a parked car, check to make sure the child responds and appears okay, then attempt to locate the parents. If the child does not appear okay, call 911 immediately and attempt to get into the car and remove the child, even if you have to break in. Wisconsin has a Good Samaritan law to protect people from liability in an emergency situation.

“With its longer hours of daylight, summer is an inviting time to spend time outdoors,” said Dr. Smolcich. “Just be aware of how you, and others, are responding to the heat. Listen to your body. If the heat and humidity are causing you to feel unwell, take precautions to begin cooling down. We want people to safely enjoy warm weather as much as possible.”  

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 650,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 providers and team members. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.