With summer activities often including trips to the pool, it can be difficult to physically see if your kids are hot or sweating. Drinking water before, during and after physical activity is one way to be sure your kids stay hydrated, but often it’s difficult to know if they’re getting enough.
Dr. Joe Congeni, director of sports medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital, encourages parents to check in with their child regularly to monitor fluid intake and activities, as well as know the signs of dehydration.
“Our bodies do a fantastic job buffering dehydration – thirst doesn’t keep up – so if your child is thirsty, dehydration is often already in full swing,” said Dr. Congeni.
Thirst can be quenched before necessary body fluids have been replaced. That’s why kids should start drinking water before thirst develops and consume additional fluids even after they quench their thirst.
Some helpful ways to keep kids cool and hydrated include:
- Keep water on hand, out in front of kids, all the time. They’ll be more inclined to drink it if they see it.
- Drink extra fluid before an activity begins, especially if your kids are participating in sports or strenuous activities, and drink plenty of fluid after an activity.
- Play outdoors early in the morning or late in the evening. Our bodies heat up faster when it’s hot outside.
- Schedule regular breaks, about every 20 minutes, during the course of an activity so kids can get a drink and out of the sun.
- Place cool towels on the neck and face to help bring the body temperature down.
- Limit drinks like soda, energy drinks, iced tea and coffee drinks because they contain caffeine, which causes urination (pee), depleting the body of fluids.
“If a child is participating in strenuous, physical activity for more than an hour, he’s starting to lose electrolytes, too, so using rehydrating sports drinks like Gatorade that contain electrolytes (sodium, potassium and calcium) is OK. Energy drinks aren’t OK,” Dr. Congeni said. “If kids in these long-term strenuous activities hydrate only with water they run the risk of a condition called hyponatremia, which is brought on by a serious decrease in sodium that can be very dangerous.”
Dr. Congeni urges kids listen to their body and rest, refuel and stop an activity, especially if they’re feeling weak, dizzy or thirsty. He also advises parents to know the signs of dehydration before it leads to heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Signs of dehydration can include:
- dry lips and mouth
- eyes that look sunken into the head
- lack of urine for 12 hours in an older child (or only a very small amount of dark yellow urine)
- dry, cool skin
- irritability or tired
- lightheaded or dizziness
- rapid heartbeat
“At the end of the day, preparation and prevention are the best defense against dehydration,” Dr. Congeni said.
If your child does become dehydrated and his condition is worsening, call your physician right away or take your child to the nearest ER.