As another school year is off and running, summer is sticking around, with heat waves expected to continue to surge throughout the Los Angeles region next week.
School often means extended outdoor time for kids, which, combined with scorching temperatures, can lead to increase in heat illness. This is an especially pressing issue for children with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and diabetes, as well as in Black and other communities of color.
“As a doctor and mother, I understand how vital it is that we prioritize our children’s safety during extreme heat,” says Sharon K. Okonkwo-Holmes, M.D., a family-practice physician with Kaiser Permanente Southern California and an instructor at Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in Pasadena. “Their bodies are more sensitive to high temperatures, and simple steps can make a big difference in preventing heat-related issues,” she says.
A great resource for information and news about extreme heat events in California is Heat Ready CA, a community outreach and awareness campaign from the Governor’s Office of Community Partnerships and Strategic Communications. According to their website, “Heat Ready CA offers simple yet essential tips and resources for parents and caregivers to create a safer environment for children as they head back to school, allowing them to focus on learning and play without worry.”
With the following five tips from Heat Ready CA, we can learn how to handle extreme heat so that our kids can go to school and play outside without putting their health and safety at risk.
- First and foremost, it is essential that children stay hydrated and protect their skin with sunscreen. The sun’s UV rays can cause sunburns and heat rashes, and in order to prevent this, kids need to wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Kids should also be hydrating consistently throughout the day and should wait until they feel thirsty to drink water. It’s best to avoid drinks with caffeine or high sugar because they can worsen dehydration.
- Additionally, kids’ clothes should keep them cool and comfortable with lightweight and breathable materials, loose-fitting fits and light colors. Teachers and yard duty should also pay special attention to kids’ body language when outside, because unlike adults, children have a harder time regulating their body temperature on their own.
- Another option is to ask your child’s teacher to reduce outdoor time altogether during an extreme heat event, especially between the times of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If kids are playing outside, make sure they get frequent rest and cool-off breaks.
- Children can also learn how to recognize heat illness symptoms in themselves and others. Parents and educators can encourage children to seek help if they or someone else is experiencing heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting.
- Last but certainly not least, keep children in mind when planning errands. Never, ever leave a child in a parked car, even for a few minutes! Temperatures inside a car can rise by 20 degrees in 10 minutes, even with a window cracked open or in more moderate temperatures.
With these tips, we can enter the back-to-school season feeling confident about our ability to protect kids from extreme heat. If we all work together, we can make sure that schools are a safe environment for kids where they can learn and play without being affected by heat illness. For more information and resources about heat protection, check out HeatReadyCA.com.