When it comes to the dangers of summer, parents usually think about heatstroke. There’s good reason: A child who dies in a car on a hot day is a tragedy that is preventable and it should be top-of-mind for parents. Heatstroke might be the most extreme danger that summer bears, but it is by no means the only one. Hot weather can exacerbate a whole range of chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease, eczema, and dehydration. The uptick in all of these conditions is not things to write off — especially for kids who are vulnerable. So as you bear through heat wave after heat wave, here are the conditions to keep tabs on — and what to do to prevent a kid overheating while outside from turning to something worse.
Heat and Asthma
The summer sun creates ideal conditions for the creation of ground-level ozone, a powerful respiratory irritant and air pollutant. Ozone is created when nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons spewed from car exhaust and other motor engines interact with sunlight. On warm, sunny days with little wind, ground-level ozone reaches higher levels in places with lots of industry or traffic. This might mean trouble for children and adults with asthma in urban areas during the summer. For example, according to one study, after six days of elevated ozone levels in Atlanta, there was a 37 percent increase in the number of children admitted to the hospital with asthmatic symptoms.
What to do about it: Keep an eye on air quality alerts on your local weather channel or app. On poor air quality days with expected high levels of ozone, keep kids indoors from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., as ozone levels peak in the mid-afternoon. Morning and evening will be safer playtimes.
Heat and Respiratory Illness
It’s not just asthma. While researchers are not sure exactly why, higher temperatures are associated with higher death rates from respiratory and heart problems as well. Anyone with existing respiratory illnesses, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, should be careful about staying cool on high heat days.
What to do about it: Simply put, avoid strenuous activities outside on hot days. Go outside during the coolest times of day — mornings and evenings — and stay inside when the thermometer climbs past 80 or 90 in the afternoons. If you need to be outside during the hot hours, take it slow and take frequent breaks in the shade.
Heat and Heart Strain
The physiological process of trying to stay cool strains your heart as well. As your body temperature rises, your heart may need to pump more blood in order to keep your core temperature around 98.6. This can exacerbate pre-existing cardiovascular diseases, leading to symptoms like chest pain, difficulty breathing, and other potentially more serious problems. If you have a heart condition, be extra careful when roughhousing with the kids or exercising outside in the heat of summer.
What to do about it: As with respiratory issues, try to limit outdoor activity to the coolest times of day, in the morning and evening. If you aren’t used to exercising in the heat, start slow and take breaks if you find yourself feeling faint or dizzy. And don’t forget to wear sunscreen — having a sunburn can affect your ability to stay cool.
Heat and Eczema
Eczema is a condition where the skin is itchy, dry, and inflamed. It affects mostly children and teens and is relatively common, affecting 30 percent of people in the United States. Heat and sweating can cause eczema to flare up, leading to irritation and itchiness. This skin condition, in general, tends to flare up at temperature extremes — dry, cold air can also cause issues.
What to do about it: If you find eczema flares up in the heat, use summer as a time to establish a skin routine, including avoiding excessively hot baths or showers, establishing a moisturizing regimen, and paying attention to irritants such as clothing or chemicals you’re in contact with daily.
Heat and Dehydration
This is one many of us know but can still easily forget: If you don’t drink enough water while sweating it out in the summer sun, you run the risk of becoming dehydrated. When you lose too many fluids and electrolytes without replenishing them, eventually your body won’t be able to carry out its normal functions and you’ll start to feel really sick. Drink extra water during hot weather, even if you don’t feel thirsty, and encourage your kids to do the same. You can even make it into a (water) drinking game!
What to do about it: Looking for a tip to get your kid to drink? There’s a gear-oriented solution: Buy them a backpack with a bladder, that cool water bottle they saw in the store window, and the shiny reusable straw you thought they didn’t need. If it gets them to drink more water on hot days, it’s worth the investment.
Heat and Kidney Problems
For young adults — particularly men in their 20s or 30s — who work or spend a lot of time outside, kidney problems are a major concern in the summer months. While, again, the science is out on the exact reasons for this, one potential issue is dehydration and tissue damage from high heat.
What to do about it: Drink plenty of water and take breaks in a cold, air-conditioned place whenever possible.
Heat and Foodborne Illnesses
This health risk is a little different than the others on this list, but no less unpleasant. Rates of foodborne illnesses are highest in the warm summer months, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This includes unwelcome guests like E. Coli and Salmonella lurking in the potato salad. These bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 90 and 110 degrees, so you’ll need to be extra careful about keeping bacteria-harboring food cool when eating outside on hotter days.
What to do about it: Don’t hesitate to toss out food if it’s been sitting out for more than an hour in 90-degree heat, as advised by the USDA. If you aren’t sure how long something has been sitting there, especially if it’s perishable like meat or mayonnaise, play it safe and throw it away!
Really hot days don’t bring out more bugs, but the summer sure does — not to mention the long-term rising temperatures that this country is seeing thanks to global warming. The kinds of diseases that bugs bring are enough of a health concern that it’s worth making the list. Mosquitoes are known to carry diseases such as Zika, West Nile virus, chikungunya virus, and more. Ticks carry Lyme. Shorter winters and warmer year-round temperatures are changing up where and when we normally find these insects, according to the 2016 Climate and Health Assessment, potentially putting more people at risk.
What to do about it: Use bug spray, check your body for ticks every time you go into a prone region, and keep an eye on the news for outbreaks.