Heat Reactions

There are three main reactions to an extremely hot environment. All three are caused by excessive loss of water through sweating.

Heatstroke or sunstroke


  • Hot, flushed skin
  • High fever (105°F, or 40.6°C)
  • Not sweating
  • Confusion or passing out
  • Seizures
  • Shock (low blood pressure)

First aid

  • Call emergency medical services (911) IMMEDIATELY.
  • The high fever can be a life-threatening emergency. Cool your child off as rapidly as possible. Move him to a cool place. Sponge him with cool water (as cold as is tolerable), and fan him. If your child is unconscious, immersion in cold water could be life-saving. Note: Ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) will not help.
  • If your child is conscious, give him a glass of cold water to drink every 15 minutes until he feels better.

Heat exhaustion


  • Cold, pale skin
  • No fever or low grade one to 101°F or 102°F
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Weakness

First aid

  • Call your child’s healthcare provider IMMEDIATELY.
  • Put your child in a cool place. Have him lie down with his feet elevated.
  • Give your child a glass of cold water to drink every 15 minutes until he feels better.
  • Your healthcare provider will probably want to examine your child’s state of hydration. After 2 or 3 glasses of water, you can drive in. Continue to offer your child water during the ride.

Heat cramps


  • Severe cramps in the legs, arms, or abdomen. Often there is tightness or spasms of the hands and feet.
  • No fever

Home care of heat cramps

Heat cramps are the most common reaction to excessive heat. They are never serious. Once the child is re-hydrated and cooled down, the symptoms usually go away in a few hours. Give your child a glass of cold water to drink every 15 minutes until he feels better. Salty foods such as chips or crackers also help. Children with heat cramps do not need to be seen by a healthcare provider.


When your child is working or exercising in a hot environment, have him drink extra fluids. Avoid salt tablets because they slow down the absorption of water. Light-colored, lightweight clothing will help keep your child cooler. Never leave a child alone in a car. Heatstroke can happen quickly to a young child left in an automobile in warm weather.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-06-05
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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