Kids show signs of illness differently than adults do, and often don’t tell an adult when they are feeling unwell. Read below to learn about outdoor illnesses.
In order to safely participate in any outdoor activity, kids need to properly fuel and hydrate their bodies. Before they head outside, feed your kids a nutritious snack such as a piece of fruit, yogurt, a handful of nuts and some water or juice to hydrate them and pump up their energy stores.
Pack extra nutritious snacks and water for them to take along. Check Canada's Food Guide for healthy eating guidelines and nutritional tips for the whole family.
Keep your kids sun safe while they are outside.
- Plan your day to enjoy outdoor activities in shaded areas between 11 am and 3pm, while the sun is at its highest.
- Apply a generous amount of "waterproof" sunscreen on children, especially when they are on or near the water - remember to re-apply often throughout the day and especially after swimming.
- Having kids wear a brimmed hat, sunglasses, and clothes that cover large areas of skin help protect them from the sun better than sunscreen.
- Have children drink extra fluids throughout the activity to prevent dehydration if they are going outdoors during times of extreme heat and humidity.
The amount of water your child needs is affected by exercise, sweating, heat and altitude. Kids should drink fluids, such as water, before, during and after any physical activity.
Set a pace that allows your child’s body to adapt to the heat and/or altitude. Be sure to monitor your kids’ hydration and don’t make them wait for a drink if they tell you that they feel thirsty – that feeling means that the dehydration process has already started.
Watch for early signs & symptoms of dehydration including:
- Dry mouth
- Decreased coordination
Dehydration can become serious quickly, and can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and in extreme cases, heat stroke.
When kids show signs of dehydration or heat cramps, which includes brief, painful and involuntary muscle spasms in the legs, arms or abdomen, replenish lost fluids, sugars and electrolytes through a sports drink, coconut water or by feeding salty and sweet foods and water.
If they show signs of moderate to severe dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, give them plenty of fluids, cool their core and immediately seek emergency medical attention.
Heat exhaustion, which is more severe than heat cramps, happens when a child become very hot and starts to lose water or salt from their body.
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Increased thirst
- Fatigue or weakness
- Muscle or abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Cool, clammy skin
- Heavy sweating
If a child shows signs of heat exhaustion, bring them to a cooler place, away from the heat and the sun, and have them drink plenty of fluids to cool off as quickly as possible.
You can help lower their core temperature by removing unnecessary clothing and cooling the skin by placing a cool wet cloth or cool water on their skin. If heat exhaustion is not treated, a child may experience heat stroke.
When the body can no longer cool itself off, and body temperature gets dangerously high, heat stroke can occur. Being unable to cool off can put strain on the brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys and as such, medical attention is required.
Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include:
- High body temperature, exceeding 40°C
- Change in mental state or behaviour
- Nausea and vomiting
- Red, hot and dry skin
- Fast and shallow breathing
- Fast heartbeat
- Throbbing headache
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Lack of sweating despite the heat
- Muscle weakness or cramps
Seek emergency medical attention for heat stroke; if waiting for help to arrive:
- Bring the child to a cool area, shaded area
- Remove any unnecessary clothing
- Have the child drink fluids (ideally water, fruit juice or a sports drink)
- Most importantly, try to lower the child’s body temperature
You can try to lower the body temperature by trying the following:
- Fan air over the child while wetting the skin with water
- Apply ice packs to armpits, groin, neck and back
- Immerse body in shower or tub of cool water
Kids are at high risk for frostbite, which usually affects areas of the body that are exposed to the cold. Though it usually affects fingers, toes, ears, noses and cheeks, frostbite can happen to any area of exposed skin.
Help prevent frostbite by dressing your kids in layers and monitoring them during exposure to cold weather.
Frostnip leaves skin white and numb and is the early warning sign of frostbite. If you notice frostnip:
- Immediately move indoors
- Get your child into warm, dry clothes
- Soak the affected body parts in warm water (not hot water) until they are no longer numb
Frostbite turns the affected area gray or yellow and makes it appear waxy. If you notice frostbite:
- Get your child into warm, dry clothes
- Seek emergency medical attention
- CAUTION: Do not rub frostbitten skin!
Hypothermia sets in after long exposure to low temperatures, wind and moisture, and can happen when out hiking, on the ski hill, or in cold water.
Dress your kids in layers appropriate for the weather to help prevent hypothermia.
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Stiff muscles
- Slurred speech
- Intense shivering
- Complaints of being cold
If you suspect your kids have hypothermia, get them into warm, dry clothes and seek emergency medical attention.
Ticks & Lyme Disease
Black legged ticks are found in overgrown, wooded areas across Canada. Being bitten by an infected tick could spread Lyme disease.
To help your child avoid tick bites encourage them to remain on marked paths and trails, and to wear shoes and socks when in long grass. After a day outdoors, have the family check themselves and/or check your child(ren) for ticks.
More information about ticks and Lyme Disease, including how to remove ticks, is available on this Health Canada page.