Ah, summer – brilliant blue skies, the warm golden sun – perfect for a day hike with the kids. And also perfect for a couple of significant injuries that sort sneak up on your children: sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. No worries, though. With a little preparation, these two common summer ailments easily can be avoided. Should the injury occur despite your best efforts, they also can be treated.



Sunburn occurs when the skin is trying to protect itself from exposure to UV rays. The skin turns red and is hot to the touch.

If there’s blistering, you have a second-degree burn. Sunburn also can lead to dehydration and sunstroke. While mainly uncomfortable for the child in the short-term, there’s also a long-term component of sunburn to consider: the damage due to the sun that results in illnesses such as skin cancers usually occurres during the first two or three decades of life.

Sunburn can be avoided. First, be aware that it generally occurs in open and high altitude areas, even on cloudy days. Sunhats or those with a wide brim to block the UV from hitting the face are a must. Pants and long-sleeved shirts also are effective, but on hot days highly uncomfortable, so you’ll want to apply sunscreen.

Even on cloudy days, hiking children can get sunburned.

Sunscreen should be made for children and have at least 30 SPF. Apply it to all exposed areas of the skin, particularly the nose, cheeks, tops of ears, and back of the neck, which are more exposed to the sun. Avoid putting it on the hands (which tend to end up in mouths), lips and eyelids. Kids will sweat off the sunscreen, so you’ll need to reapply it during the hike.

If your trip includes a swim, get waterproof sunscreen. UV rays can penetrate the water. You’ll want to reapply the sunscreen after the kids have dried off. Also, hike only forested trails during the midday when the sun is most intense (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

In addition, children should use lip balm with an SPF, even if their lips are not chapped. Also encourage kids to wear sunglasses to reduce the chance of cataracts.

To treat sunburn, begin by having children drink a lot of water. This helps replenish the body of its lost fluids, which is an element of being sunburned. Then apply cold compresses or a handkerchief sponge with cold water onto the burned areas. Aloe vera can be applied to reduce the pain.

Children (and adults!) are more susceptible to sunburn at high altitudes.


Heat exhaustion & heat stroke

When the body can’t stay cool and overheats, people can die. Children are more likely to suffer from overheating than adults. Because their bodies are smaller, they generate more heat to the same amount of activity does to an adult. Children also sweat less. Younger kids have a less developed internal heat regulating system than adults, and more time is needed to acclimate to a hot environment.

Given this, a condition to watch for in children is heat exhaustion. This occurs when blood vessels in the skin dilate, decreasing blood supply to brain. It sometimes can develop into heatstroke, which is a when the body can’t cool itself by sweating.

There are a number of ways to avoid heat exhaustion. First, dress children in light-colored, loosely woven clothing. This will help reflect sunlight and allow moisture to evaporate from their bodies. A hat with a wide brim and that breathes also offers protection. Next, start hiking early in the morning if you know the day will be hot. Hiking in temperatures higher than 80 degrees and in the direct sunlight usually is uncomfortable and taxing, particularly as humidity rises. Take more frequent rest stops on hot days. Make sure the break is in a shaded area, where children can take off their hats, as a good portion of our body’s heat loss occurs on the head. A water bottle that sprays mist can help keep kids cool when the day gets a little hot.

Signs of heat exhaustion include cramp-like pains, nausea, damp pale skin, dizziness, feeling weak, appearing flushed, rapid heart rate, headache, high body temperature, vomiting, decreased urine output, children denying they are hot, and fainting.

Treating heat exhaustion requires resting children in the shade and giving them lots of fluids, especially water. Loosen their clothing, then sponge or splash the child with water, and fan to increase the cooling rate.

If the child becomes confused or lethargic, he is likely developing heatstroke. Other symptoms of heat stroke include impaired mental function, headache, dizziness, high body temperature, flushed hot skin, and a fast, strong pulse.

In this case, massage extremities to get the blood circulating there then get immediate medical help. If you bring a child to a medical facility, carry them, as a victim should not resume physical activities for some time or a relapse may occur.

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