Heat is harder on kids. Here’s what you should look out for:

CHARLOTTE — In the heat of summer, kids still want to play, but medical experts want parents and caregivers to know anytime the heat index is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it poses a significant health risk.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children haven’t yet developed the mechanisms adults have to regulate their body temperatures. Their metabolisms burn energy faster, they don’t sweat as much, and often they don’t recognize signs of heat stress in their bodies until it starts to take a toll.

For Dr. Christyn Magill at Levine Children’s Hospital, this time of year sees a spike in emergency department visits from children with symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Last year, North Carolina emergency departments saw 3,925 cases of heat-related illnesses, about 10 percent of those were from children under 18.

“They can look like they’re kind of panting or breathe faster,” she said. “They can become weak or feel like they’re becoming faint they may have lower energy.”

Magill said once children start exhibiting those signs, caregivers should start working to cool them down. Get them out of the heat or into shade, give them water and a cool pack, if you have one. If their bodies are still warm and they’re still feeling sick after those interventions, that’s when it could be time to seek medical help.

“We can evaluate them and give them additional rehydration and cooling techniques,” she said.

With more than 1,500 kids enrolled in the YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s summer camps, Amanda Wilkinson said her staff are all trained to watch for and recognize those signs of heat stress, and plan their programming around keeping kids cool and hydrated.

“Sometimes kids don’t necessarily recognize their own cues that they’re thirsty or getting dehydrated so make sure that we’re prompting them to drink water regularly,” she said.

Magill stressed that kids, especially younger kids, need to be reminded to drink water, because they rarely remember to do so on their own. Wilkinson said each group of campers plans out breaks throughout the day when everyone must drink, and each camper has their own bottle on them at all times.

“We have water coolers set up all across our facility,” she said.

Water can also help even when kids aren’t drinking it. The YMCA facility rotates kids into on-site pools but it also plans opportunities for water activities with squirt guns, balloons and other toys.

It’s not just that water is usually cooler than the air temperature, but when water evaporates off of your skin, your body cools down.

“If there’s a breeze outside that can take some of the heat away from your body,” Magill said.

Fans can also offer some relief, but experts say not in extreme heat. If the air temperature is in the upper 90′s fans just blow hot air around and can cause the body to gain heat.

The NWS heat risk map can show the heat-related health outlook for each day of the week based on a 0-4 scale. Currently Charlotte is in the red or level 3 risk for the rest of the week. According to the National Weather Service, this kind of heat poses a threat to anyone without effective cooling or adequate hydration.

(WATCH: ‘Offset the heat islands’: Finding Charlotte’s hottest spots)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.

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