Dehydration Safety Tips For Kids And Teens

Staying hydrated in the heat is important for everyone, but it is especially important for children.

If you think your little outdoor lover is staying hydrated, there’s a 50/50 chance they may not be. A study conducted at Harvard’s School of Public Health found that more than half of all kids ages 6 to 19 in the U.S. are not getting enough hydration, probably because they are simply not drinking enough water.

Kids and teenagers are at a higher risk of dehydration than most adults. Adolescents do not adapt to extremes of temperature as effectively as adults, according to the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP). Children generate more heat than adults, and sweat less, which makes them more susceptible to dehydration.

In high schools across the country, it is estimated that more than 9,000 athletes are treated for heat illness each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

How do you know when you are dehydrated?

Dehydration occurs when your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. It’s important to be aware of all the signs of dehydration, and know that it can cause life threatening health issues immediately and lead to health problems down the line.

Dehydration can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, and even death, according to the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Health (NIH). A 2015 study at Harvard found that lack of proper hydration can have significant repercussions on physical, cognitive, and emotional health for adolescents in the long run.

Signs of dehydration:

  • Thirsty.
  • Dry or sticky mouth. You are unable to spit
  • Not going to the bathroom as often as usual
  • Darker yellow urine
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps

More severe signs of dehydration:

  • Dry, shriveled skin
  • Not sweating
  • Not urinating, or very dark yellow or amber-colored urine
  • Irritability or confusion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sunken eyes
  • Listlessness
  • Shock shivers (not enough blood flow through the body)
  • Unconsciousness or delirium

Prevent dehydration by drinking water

It’s important to encourage all kids to drink the right amount of water, and never wait for a child to tell you he or she is thirsty.

Girls should aim for 2.1 to 2.7 liters of water daily, while boys should aim to drink 2.4 to 3.7 liters of water, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). And these recommendations don’t factor in when kids increase their physical activity by perhaps playing outside.

Make sure kids and teens stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during and after play. The AAP recommends the following while working up a sweat:

  • 5 oz. for an 88-pound child every 20 minutes
  • 9 oz. for a 132-pound adolescent every 20 minutes
  • Make sure athletes drink fluids (water is the best option) 30 minutes before the activity begins and every 15-20 minutes during activity
  • To determine how much hydration is needed for a specific athlete in a given climate, weight the athlete (unclothed) before and after the sports activity. 1 pound lost is equal to losing 16 oz. of water. A loss of weight after a sports activity is a sign of dehydration.
  • Caution: Hourly fluid intake should not exceed 1.5 quarts. Daily intake should not exceed 12 quarts.

The AAP notes that sipping 4oz to 8oz. of water during every 15-20 minutes of sports activity is good for most school age children and adolescents.

Treating a teen or child suffering from dehydration

  • If an adolescent is experiencing any moderate to severe signs of dehydration, cease physical activity.
  • Immediately move the athlete from direct sunlight to shade.
  • Have the athlete drink cool water, remove any equipment and excess clothing and lie down.
  • Cool the their body with cold water. Use a cold wet cloth, spray them with  hose, or even use melted ice from a cooler to dump over their body.
  • Try raising his or her legs about 8-12 inches off the ground.
  • Try sucking on ice cubes if they do not feel like sipping water.
  • Try drinking water or a sports drinks that contain electrolytes such as gatorade or Powerade.
  • Do not take salt tablets. They can actually cause serious complications.
  • If an athlete is severely dehydrated or suffering from heat exhaustion, call 911 if his or her condition doesn’t improve or worsens.

Conditions that worsen heat-induced dehydration in children and adolescents

The AAP’s Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness points out these conditions that can make matters worse:

  • Excessive fluid loss, due to to febrile state, gastrointestinal infection, diabetes insipidus, or diabetes mellitus.
  • Suboptimal sweating, due to spina bifida, sweating insufficiency syndrome
  • Excessive sweating, due to selected cyanotic congenital heart defects
  • Diminished thirst, due to cystic fibrosis
  • Inadequate Drinking, due to special needs or young children who may not comprehend the importance of drinking.
  • Anorexia nervosa, advanced undernutrition, or a prior heat-related illness.
  • Obesity.

How to know when it’s too hot

The air temperature outside isn’t the only thing that determines conditions outside are too dangerous for kids. 70% of climate heat stress is due to humidity, 20% to radiation, and just 10% is determined by air temperature.

Wet Bulb Global Temperature (WBGT) takes these three heat stress factors into account. It indicates wet bulb globe temperature, an index of climatic heat stress measured with a psychrometer, composed of 3 thermometers that measure humidity, radiation, and air temperature.

Signs of proper hydration

Kids will know if they’re drinking enough water if their urine is clear or the color of lemonade. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s infographic on what urine color says about hydration.

Remember, dehydration is preventable. Parents and coaches need to be aware of the potential hazards of high-intensity exercise in hot or humid climates and to take measures to prevent heat-related illness in children and adolescents.