Sunstroke is the most severe form of heat illness that occurs when the body is unable to regulate itself due to the effects of too much heat or humidity from sun exposure. It is usually characterized by reddening, dry skin and a high body temperature without sweating. While adults acquire and treat common heat-related illnesses more commonly, babies are actually more prone to heat exhaustion and stroke.
The main cause of sunstroke among babies is dehydration caused by excessive exposure to the sun. Before sunstroke develops, infants first experience less-severe heat illnesses such as heat cramps or heat exhaustion. As such, preventing sunstroke among babies could be done by treating or preventing these less-severe heat-related conditions.
Why are Babies Vulnerable to Sunstroke?
Babies are more prone to sunstroke because of their less-developed physiological adaptations. For instance, in comparison to adults, they have a larger surface area in relation to their size. This means that they lose water faster. They are also unable to regulate their body temperature because of their thin skin.
Babies find it more difficult to adjust to changing temperatures. As a result, they sweat less, generate more heat during exercise, and have a reduced ability to cool down. Along with these, it is more difficult to identify a baby’s physiological needs (e.g. thirst or hunger) because of their natural inability to express themselves clearly.
Symptoms of Sunstroke
Heat-related illnesses in babies have common symptoms. As such, sunstroke symptoms are mainly characterized by intensified symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as the following:
- Dry mouth and eyes
- Intense thirst or dehydration
- Dark urine
- More irritable than usual
- Rising body temperature or high fever over 105° F (40.5° C)
- Red, hot, and dry skin
- Rapid breathing
- Unresponsiveness or shock
Babies diagnosed with sunstroke usually have a high fever, hot or dry skin, and absence of sweating. However, because sunstroke is an emergency situation, babies showing early signs of sunstroke or signs of milder heat-related illnesses should be given immediate medical attention.
Treating Sunstroke in Babies
Sunstroke is a life-threatening emergency that is associated with high death rates in the absence of proper treatment. As such, parents or caregivers should avail of emergency medical help as soon as heat exhaustion symptoms arise. Simultaneously, the following first aid treatment should be given while waiting for medical care, to prevent its progression to sunstroke:
- Take the baby indoors or any place which is cooler
- Remove all items of clothing
- Lower the baby’s temperature using any available method (e.g. dousing with cool water, covering with cool, damp cloths, cool bath).
- Do not give fluids or medications to the baby, unless specified by a medical professional or unless the baby is conscious and able to drink sips
- Do not leave the baby alone, even for a short period of time
- If unconscious, lay the baby on its side, and check if the breathing is normal from time to time
Keeping Babies Protected from Sunstroke
Preventing babies from acquiring sunstroke or any heat-related illness is an easy matter. Firstly, because babies are more prone to dehydration, they should always be kept hydrated by giving them enough water. A quick way to determine if a child’s liquid intake is enough is by monitoring the color of their urine. A dark yellow urine implies mild dehydration; a clear or light-yellow color means that the infant is drinking enough fluids.
Caregivers should also be wary of heat cramps. While heat cramps are the most common reaction to heat exposure, treating them early on will prevent the onset of more severe heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Outdoor physical activity and exposure should be monitored by caregivers. Ensure that babies are exposed to sunlight only at appropriate hours and for short periods of time. Keep babies well-rested by avoiding excessive strenuous activities especially in hot weather.
Additionally, the infant’s clothing should be adapted to weather conditions. Avoid the use of too much clothing for babies when heat or humidity levels are high. If possible, keep babies in cool rooms during the hot season.