It’s summer — time for sunlit evenings, outdoor fun and carefree living. But lurking to spoil your bliss are unbearable heat, suffocating smog and other seasonal assailants. No doubt you and your kids would rather thrive, not just survive, in the sweltering season. Here’s a guide for taking the dog days in stride.
Summer’s sizzling rays can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, from dehydration to heat cramps. You’ll most likely ride out the rising temperatures better than your little ones. Kids don’t fare as well in heat as adults because they have a larger skin surface area for their weight, says Randy Calvert, an exercise physiologist and manager at the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton.
Kids at play can shed 200 to 500 millilitres of sweat per hour, according to Calvert’s colleague, exercise physiologist Boguslaw Wilk — and athletic youngsters, 500 to 700 millilitres an hour during training or competition. To help them replenish those lost fluids, make sure kids drink before, during and after activities. (When they’re having fun, children can “forget” they’re thirsty.) Water is best; save sports drinks for high-energy activities over a longer period — say, if your kids are kicking around at a soccer game.
How much water is enough? Eight glasses a day, experts say, but hydration isn’t an exact science. Several factors come into play, including age, diet and activity level. What suits a kid indoors instant messaging may not quench your outdoor Beckham wannabe. Teach kids how to tell when they’re dehydrated — signs are dry or sticky mouth, headache, dizziness and dark-yellow urine. Also, a good rule of thumb is to have a glass of H20 with every meal and in between. Active kids should drink two to four glasses for every hour of outdoor fun in steamy sun.
Get quenched while you eat. Foods with high water content can also help you replace lost fluid. Juicy fruits like melons and oranges are good choices, says Susie Langley, a Toronto registered dietitian. Plus, when kids are active, they need to replenish their stores of glycogen (carbs stored in the liver and muscles); natural sugars in fruits, whole grains, vegetables, milk and yogurt will help do the trick.
Pay attention to daily weather forecasts — in particular, the Canadian Humidex, which combines temperature and humidity into one number. When the Humidex hits 40° to 45°C, keep exertion to a minimum. If it’s higher than 45°C, make it one of those lazy days of summer. “On a very humid day, there’s so much moisture in the air our sweat doesn’t evaporate,” says Calvert. “It’s the process of evaporation that cools the skin.”
When the body’s heat regulation goes wonky, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke can result. And severity increases with age: Stifling conditions that may cause heat cramps in a young teen could give Grandma heatstroke. Here’s how to tell the difference:
The signs Painful cramps, especially in the legs; moist skin; mild fever, not higher than 38.9°C (102°F)
What to do Move person to a cool or shaded area. Give cool (not icy) water to drink. Take off excess clothing and apply cool compresses to, or fan, skin. Stretch cramped muscles slowly and gently.
The signs Muscle cramps; fever over 38.9°C (102°F); nausea; vomiting; moist skin; headache; fatigue; diarrhea
What to do Move person to a shaded or cool area. Give cool (not icy) water to drink. Take off excess clothes and apply cool compresses to, or fan, skin. If he can’t keep water down, or there is no improvement, seek emergency care.
The signs Warm, dry skin; high fever, usually over 40°C (104°F); nausea, vomiting; headache; confusion; fatigue; rapid heart rate; seizures
What to do Call 911 immediately. Let person rest in a cool area. Take off excess clothes and soak skin with cool water, or fan skin. Give cool fluids if able to drink. Place towel-wrapped ice packs on armpits and groin.
• Apply sunscreen before you head outdoors. Even better, if you can: Slather it all over the little ones (older than six months) while they’re getting dressed. Most fabrics are no match for UV rays.
• Look for the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) logo when buying sun protective clothing.
• Opt for spray-on sunscreens if your child’s finicky about being touched.
• Apply sunscreen to hands as well. You’ll wave off wrinkles and age spots for a while.
• To brush up on sun protection, see Sunscreen Smarts.
• Breastfed babies don’t need water in hot weather, says Teresa Pitman, Today’s Parent Steps & Stages columnist and executive director of La Leche League Canada. “Studies in India have shown that breastmilk changes in hot weather — it has more fluid.” Make sure to increase your fluid intake, Pitman advises — you’re drinking for two. Formula-fed babies do need extra water between feedings.
• Hot weather might make breastfeeding slightly slippery. “If you’re really sweaty, it’s harder to get a very little baby attached,” says Pitman. Before nursing, wipe off breasts gently with a towel. Then keep your cool (and baby’s) by placing a cloth between you and him as he nurses.
• Taking expressed milk to an all-day outdoor event? Keep it fresh in a cooler bag with a refreezable gel pack.
• Before your kids invade their favourite seasonal retreat, give play equipment a feel. Metal rails and handles can reach a scorching 49°C (120°F) and even plastic can singe in the sun. While you’re at it, douse stone walkways and patios to spare bare feet.
• If you like your greenery green, let kids frolic in the sprinkler in the morning or evening — midday sunlight quickly evaporates water.
• For a natural bug buster, try planting horsemint, marigolds, catnip or rosemary; scrunching their leaves will release oils that are believed to keep mosquitoes away.
• Don’t forget your four-legged friends. Set up shaded areas so pets can escape the heat, and keep light-coloured pets inside when it’s really roasting, as their skin burns easily.
Blackout survival tips
As households plug in fans and crank up air conditioning, rolling blackouts or hydro failures can become a problem in urban areas. Be prepared for when the power goes out:
• Keep fresh backup batteries in plugged-in radios.
• Designate someone to check on vulnerable family members.
• Stock up on must-have meds: Stores, including pharmacies, may be out of commission.
• Prepare an emergency kit with flashlights, candles, matches, a corded phone, batteries, first-aid kid, extra bottled water (if you normally buy it), canned goods, battery-operated fans, playing cards, books, games and CDs. Visit Toronto Emergency Medical Services for more info.
• Keep the fridge door closed as much as possible, so you don’t lose cold air. And place a thermometer in the freezer; if the temperature remains at 4°C (about 40°F) or lower after a blackout, you can safely refreeze your food.
• Hot spells may mean changing the daily dose if you or your children are taking certain drugs, like asthma meds. Monitor symptoms closely at home and consult with your doctor before making any changes.
• Some drugs can increase the risk of heatstroke. Anticonvulsants, for example, “can reduce the body’s ability to sweat and cool itself, so you overheat,” says Mark Kearney, vice-president of the Canadian Pharmacists Association. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about heat-related risks for your prescriptions or supplements.
• You’ve likely heard room temperature is best for storing vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as most drugs. And that’s still good advice, even when scorching outdoor heat brings indoor air to a steamy 32°C (90°F). “A couple weeks of hot weather is really not a concern for most drugs,” says Kearney. However, long-term, 99 percent of medications will become less effective when kept at high temperatures. The best place to store them? A dry area, out of kids’ reach, in the bedroom or home office — not clammy zones like the kitchen, bathroom or car. “When it comes to meds breaking down,” Kearney says, “humidity’s more important than temperature.” Of course, some meds, like antibiotic suspensions, need to be kept in the fridge regardless of the weather; follow the directions on the package.
• Be watchful for sun sensitivity. Acne attackers like Retin-A and Accutane, and antibiotics like tetracycline, can trigger skin reactions in the sun, or photosensitivity. Ditto for anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, and some shampoos with coal tar. Reactions range from a change in skin colour to sunburn or, in extreme cases, dermatitis. You may notice sensitivity right away, or maybe not for 24 to 72 hours after exposure. Talk to your pharmacist about heightened risk, prevention and treatment.
Ways to cool your castle
Heat seeps into homes mainly through the roof, walls and windows. Try these preventive fixes:
• Ventilated attics are about 16°C (30°F) cooler than unventilated ones. Consider having a few extra roof vents or rafter vents, such as ProVent, installed to improve airflow.
• Another attic upgrade: Radiant barriers under your roof can deflect the sun’s rays. Sheets should be installed on a cloudy day.
• Roughly 40 percent of heat comes in through windows. It’s easy to apply reflective window film to reduce glare and keep heat out.
• Lighten up and switch to compact fluorescent bulbs; they emit 90 percent less heat than traditional incandescent bulbs, but are just as bright.
• Doing laundry leaves indoors hot and sticky. Keep the door closed or seal off the room with a vinyl curtain.
• Keep a thermometer in the fridge to make sure it’s at 4°C (about 40°F). If the temperature is any higher, food could spoil or become unsafe to eat — so adjust fridge settings.
• Pick up meats and other perishables, such as dairy and eggs, last at the supermarket, and unload them first when you get home. Refrigerate right away.
• For tips on safe barbecuing, see BBQ Health Hazards.
Cool food culture
Stock up on “cool foods” when it gets hot. According to Eastern medicine, they’re packed with water, draw heat from central organs and help your body release heat. Bonus: They’re high in vitamins and minerals. Fruits like mango, pear, strawberry and banana, and veggies like salad greens, asparagus and cucumber are cool choices. To learn more about cooling foods, visit acupuncture.com.
By Diane Peters
Hot summer nights are made for walks on the beach and drinks on the patio — but not for sleep. Want to get the kids down so you can enjoy these summer perks? Here’s how:
Keep bedtime consistent. “It’s really helpful for kids to know the rules and have some sort of routine,” says Rachel Morehouse, director of the Atlantic Health Sciences Sleep Centre in Saint John. To avoid a battle of wills, set a later bedtime (as well as morning wake time), but stick to it.
Fan smart. Never fan a closed room or direct warm air onto someone (they’ll just sweat more and dehydrate). Put fans close to windows or doors, pointing into the room.
Take a dip. Cool children off with a lukewarm bath before bed. Avoid the invigorating shock of overly cold water.
Wind down. After a thrilling day at the beach or zoo, schedule quiet time before bed — reading books, having a bath or talking together — so kids will be calm enough to nod off.
Block the light. Late sunsets and early sunrises don’t help anyone snooze, so invest in room-darkening blinds for all bedrooms, even yours. Plus, drawn shades during the day help keep rooms cool.
Sun Smarties Family Cabana This UV-coated tent blocks out 98 percent of the sun’s rays and folds into a carry bag for easy toting.
Frubi Shades Designed by an ophthalmologist to protect children’s eyes, these spongy sunglasses block out UV and blue light, and reduce infrared rays. Velcro straps keep them snug and secure.
Squeaky Cheeks Performance Powder Outdoor enthusiasts rejoice. This all-natural powder controls sweat-related itching and chafing. squeakycheeks.com
Beauty and the heat
Preserve your pretty with these pointers from Susie Galvez, author of Hello Beautiful: 365 Ways to Be Even More Beautiful:
• Store cleansing gels, toners and moisturizers in the fridge.
• Heat and humidity can leave your T-zone oily. Instead of water, spritz some oil-free toner on a sponge to moisten wet/dry foundation, or add several drops to your liquid makeup, before applying.
• Control moisture by mixing a pinch of baking soda with your body powder on your puff.
• Exfoliate sun-baked or cracked lips with a light film of petroleum jelly and a soft bristle toothbrush, used solely for this purpose. Break a vitamin E capsule and smooth over lips; rub excess into cuticles.
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.