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There have been far too many young athletes who have died from heat stroke or suffered severe heat exhaustion from training in the heat and unfortunately, heat stroke is one of the common causes of exercise-related death in high school students in the United States.

Deadly combinations usually involve high heat and humidity, but similar catastrophic problems have occurred in less drastic climates. Long before your child moves up to high school sports, the issues of heat tolerance need your utmost attention. Compared with adults, children’s ability to tolerate the heat is very different. Once again, development is waving its flag, wanting to be seen and heard. If it was visible, it would be jumping up and down saying, “Pick me! Pick me!” This child-adult difference in handling heat is important if you have a child who is training in a sport that is outdoors or traveling to other states to compete, especially in geographic areas where temperature and humidity are known to be high. This difference can certainly affect the way your child is able to train and perform. Knowledge about how your youngster developmentally handles heat can hopefully help prevent serious or even mild problems.

There are quite a few basic differences in the chemical makeup of children that make it harder for them to regulate body  temperature than adults.

  1. Children have more body surface area than body weight, so when the outside temperature is higher than body temperature, children tend to gain heat faster than adults. Don’t let their smaller size deceive you.
  2. During exercise, children generate up to 20% to 25% more heat for their body weight than adults. Youngsters’ higher metabolic rates also contribute to the higher amounts of heat that kids can generate with exercise and activities.
  3. Movements that are unrefined and inefficient produce more heat in kids than older athletes who have mastered their techniques and have more smooth movements.
  4. The amount of blood pumped during exercise is less in children than adults, so there is less ability to move heat to the skin to give off heat.
  5. Children have immature sweating mechanisms and also sweat less than adults, so they have less ability to get rid of heat by evaporation of sweat. They do not have as many sweat glands, and those sweat glands are not as efficient as adults. Getting sunburned also decreases the ability of the sweat glands to perform, so wearing sunscreen is a must (in addition to protecting their skin from premature aging and skin cancer).
  6. Children adjust to the heat more slowly, so it will take longer for them to get used to summer temperatures and humidity than adults. This process of adaptation is called acclimatization. This ability to adapt is what allows your Baby Bear not to get too hot or too cold, but to be just right.
  7. Core body temperature in children rises higher and more quickly with dehydration, so it is even more important to provide drink breaks for young active children. The thirst drive in a child is not as good as an adult’s thirst drive, so taking frequent breaks to drink fluids should be mandatory.
  8. Children who are overweight are even more at risk for heat illness because extra weight can compound most of these problems. They have to generate more heat to move the larger body mass, it is harder to give off heat (so they retain more heat), and they adjust even more slowly to the heat.

 

Author
Paul R. Stricker, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
5/11/2013
Source
Sports Success Rx! Your Child’s Prescription for the Best Experience (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.