Prevent Heat-Related Illness in Your Child

Boy drinking water from bottle sitting on grass outdoors.

Heat-related illness occurs when the body’s temperature gets too high. Body temperature can be affected by the temperature of the air and by level of physical activity. To protect your child from heat-related illness, follow the tips on this sheet.

What are the symptoms of heat-related illness?

Heat-related illness can range in symptoms from mild (heat cramps), to moderate (heat exhaustion), to severe (heat stroke).

  • Mild: heat cramps

    • Sweating a lot

    • Having painful spasm in muscles during activity or hours later (heat cramps)

    • Developing tiny red bumps on skin and a prickly sensation (heat rash or prickly heat)

    • Feeling irritable, dizzy, or weak

  • Moderate: heat exhaustion

    • Sweating a lot

    • Having cold, moist, pale, or flushed skin

    • Feeling very weak or tired

    • Having headache, nausea, loss of appetite

    • Having rapid or weak pulse

    • Having painful muscle cramps

  • Severe: heat stroke

    NOTE: If your child has symptoms of heat stroke, call 911 or take your child to the emergency department right away.

    • Not sweating

    • Having hot, dry skin that looks red, gray, or bluish

    • Having deep, fast breathing

    • Having headache or nausea

    • Having rapid, weak, or irregular pulse

    • Feeling dizzy, confused, or delirious

    • Fainting

    • Having convulsions or other shaking movements

How is heat-related illness treated?

If your child has symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, call 911 or take your child to the nearest emergency department. You can also start treatment yourself by doing the following: 

  • Remove your child from the heat, direct sun, or warm air that is causing the illness.

  • Give your child cold fluids, such as water, to drink to prevent dehydration. Infants can be given a children’s electrolyte solution.

  • Apply cool compresses on your child’s forehead, neck, and underarms.

  • Blow cool air onto your child’s skin with fans.

  • Give your child a bath in cool water to bring down body temperature. Make sure the water is not too cold.

  • Give your child over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to treat pain and fever.  Do not give ibuprofen to an infant 6 months of age or less, or to a child who is dehydrated or constantly vomiting. Do not give aspirin to a child with a fever. This can put your child at risk of a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.

When to call the healthcare provider

Call the healthcare provider if your child has any of the following:

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Signs of dehydration (very dark or little urine, excessive thirst, dry mouth, dizziness)

  • Increased tiredness or lack of energy

  • A fainting spell

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit (axillary) temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

How is heat-related illness prevented?

You can do the following to prevent your child from getting heat-related illness:

  • Give your child plenty of fluids to drink.

  • Dress your child in appropriate clothing for the weather.

  • Have your child rest and take breaks during exercise or physical activity.

On hot days, also do the following:

  • Keep your child indoors or in shaded or cool areas.

  • Give your child more fluids than usual.

  • Spray cool water on your child to keep him or her cool.

  • Dress your child in fewer layers and loose fitting clothing. Have your child wear a hat or a visor.

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© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.