Monday, August 6, 2012

Feelin' Hot, Hot, Hot!

This summer in the Midwest sure has been a hot one.  Thankfully, a break in the oppressive temperatures appears to be here—just in time for the start of the high school fall sports practice season.  While the weather will be relatively cooler, two-a-day practices on days with highs in the 90s and high humidity still put athletes at risk for heat injury.  Fortunately, heat injury is largely preventable with a little common sense.

When an athlete exercises, the body’s temperature is elevated and the body sweats to cool itself down.  Body fluid and critical electrolytes are lost in the process.  If fluids and electrolytes are not replaced, dehydration occurs, increasing the risk of heat injury.

 Symptoms of heat injury may include:
  • Cramps
  • Chills
  • Dark urine
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion

Heat-related illness can be prevented.  Athletes should stay hydrated before, during and after exercise.  Light, loose clothing should be worn and skin should be exposed as much as possible.  They should train appropriately to be ready for the heat, usually starting with short, low intensity workouts that may gradually increase over 7-14 days.  This allows the body to get used to the conditions safely.
 
Coaches and parents play an important role in prevention, as well.  Each should strive to be able to recognize early signs of heat injury.  Practicing during the early morning or later evening hours decreases risk.  Additionally, workouts should be altered when heat and humidity are high, and when individual athletes are not ready for the heat.
Hydration is the most important way to prevent heat illness.  Athletes should drink at least 16 ounces of water or sports drink one hour prior to exercise.  During exercise, they should continue to drink regularly, about 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes.   If an event lasts longer than one hour, or if there will be multiple bouts of exercise in a day (like a tournament), a drink containing carbohydrates and electrolytes should be used.  Most sports drinks will do the trick.  Otherwise, plain water is fine.
If you see any signs of heat illness, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency.  Do not hesitate to call for an ambulance early on if an athlete seems to be in trouble.  While you are waiting, begin cooling the athlete by getting him or her to a shaded area.  Consider placing the athlete in a pool of cold water, if available.  If not, placing ice bags or cold towels around the neck, armpits, and groin will help.  Provide cool beverages if the athlete is able to drink.  Act quickly, as these interventions may save someone’s life.

Brandon Larkin, MD

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