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PM Pediatrics
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Dr. Christina Johns
Senior Medical Advisor, PM Pediatrics

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Hot Baby or Cool Kid?

I love it when #smartmommas and #smartdads get me thinking. This week a parent asked about kids and body temperature during the summer: specifically, what’s better to use for a kid – turn on the A/C or use a fan? Maybe this seems like a fairly straightforward question at first glance, but the more I let it turn over in my mind, the more I realized that there’s actually more “stuff” in that question that’s worth discussing. This #smartmomma might even be sorry she asked.

First, we need to talk about age and how this relates to body temperature.

Babies less than 8 weeks old  regulate their body temperatures LESS WELL: they have larger body surface area and a smaller layer of fat under their skin, so they lose heat more easily and aren’t as good at insulating themselves. Additionally, these young babies don’t shiver or sweat very well, so they don’t warm up or cool down as easily as older kids. Older kids, 6 months and up,  are more successful at achieving what we call “homeostasis” or a steady state. That means the body temperature stays pretty much the same, regardless of a warm or cold environment.  That’s why we are warm-blooded animals, right, and not cold blooded like reptiles and amphibians who need to sun themselves to warm up and then get in the water to cool off once the atmosphere gets too hot.

So for younger babies (<8 weeks) we need to pay slightly better attention to the ambient temperature, because we now know that they don’t do as fine a job keeping warm or cooling off than older kids. Some common sense will take over here as most people know NOT to freeze their newborn out by turning the A/C to 68 degrees nor blow a fan directly on their body. That being said, most people will keep the ambient temperature slightly warmer by a degree or so (somewhere around 75) than they personally might necessarily find comfortable. But older kids?  Does it matter – strictly from a temperature point of view – whether or not they get a fan blowing in their bedroom or have the room cooled by the air conditioning? The answer is no.  As long as the environmental temperature is comfortable, how it gets there isn’t really that important.

But the temperature in degrees isn’t the only thing I considered when evaluating how best to answer the question posed to me.

I think we have to consider all the molds and germs that can get into air conditioning units when making a decision about what’s best for kids, and for all of us for that matter. Don’t forget to change the air filters in those appliances regularly to minimize the potential of exposing yourself and your kids to these substances. If you live in a rental unit, it is absolutely reasonable to ask your landlord when the last time the air conditioning unit was serviced and the filter changed.

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Humidity is another issue.

Some central air conditioners have poor humidity control and if it’s especially dry then nasal passages dry out and the chance of nosebleeds increases.  Not usually a big deal, as most are easily controlled with firm pressure squeezing the nostrils together, but it can be a major drag from a laundry standpoint. What do I use to get a blood stain out of fabric? Good ol’ hydrogen peroxide. Usually works pretty well. LOL…look at me firing up cleaning tips on a medical blog.  Who knew?

Fans.

Does it matter if air from a fan is blowing directly onto a child?  No, not really. It will not cause them to get sick. Some kids might find it stimulating (or just the opposite) but it won’t add or detract from their state of wellness. Do you have to be careful about what kind of fan you have to prevent an injury from kids sticking their fingers into the old blade fans? You sure do. Bladeless fans (shown below) are now being made, and current standards dictate a very small grate that fingers can’t fit through, but the old fans still pose a hazard. And for whatever reason kids just CANNOT resist sticking their fingers in there. I’ve seen more than one severe fingertip laceration from this… and worse.  So keep that in mind– #safetyfirst and all that.

floor fan

I’ll be curious to see if anyone reading this has any very specific or strong feeling about this subject, or will share what has worked (or not) for them and their kids. There’s no absolute here, but the big messages I want to send are:

  1. People don’t catch infections from cold air or air blowing directly on the body.
  2. Small babies need more help with temperature regulation: don’t keep the air too cold but don’t “cook” them by bundling them in several blankets over a few layers of clothes in the summer. This has been shown to cause fever from what people think is real illness, and simply unbundling a baby has sometimes been all that’s needed. (Yup, you read me right. Fever can sometimes be caused from an external factor like overheating. It’s a quick fix, though!)
  3. Home maintenance is important: keep air filters clean and appliances serviced to avoid circulating unhealthy air particles in the home.
  4. Keep safety in mind: could your child possibly get injured from a fan or other appliance by pulling a poorly secured heavy object over onto them or by sticking his/her face or fingers where they don’t belong? Examine your environment critically.

 

This blog might not have the groove appeal (HA!) of some of my other entries but I’m grateful to the #smartmomma who wrote to me with a simple but important question that gave me the opportunity to bring up a few important issues that we all need reminding about every now and then.  I’m absolutely convinced that if we stick together, share our ideas and questions, and talk through these issues that we will make this whole parenting, health, and kid thing just a little bit easier on ourselves.

And what’s not to like about that?

 

Keep Reading! Drowning in a Sea of Misinformation.

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