In August, student athletes head off to pre-season practices to prepare for fall sports such as football, soccer, and cross-country. But, with summer temperatures still soaring, it’s important for athletes to be prepared for extreme heat and to heed the warning signs of potential problems. Here’s some things that parents, coaches and athletes need to keep in mind to stay healthy:
- In extremely hot weather, practices should be restricted to early morning or late afternoon. Athletes and their adult coaches and trainers, need to monitor their level of activity and make sure they don’t over-exert themselves.
- They should keep well-hydrated with water or sports drinks with less than 8 percent carbohydrates and take frequent breaks inside or in the shade. Athletes should not drink alcohol, drinks with caffeine, or carbonated drinks before, during, or after exertion.
- It is smartest to get athletes used to the heat gradually by slowly raising the intensity and duration of workouts over 10 to 14 days in the intense heat. Athletes should opt for loose fitting and light clothing and avoid full equipment if possible.
- Finally, if an athlete isn’t feeling well, they need to speak up and alert their coach or trainer right away. Getting the body cooled down immediately can be the difference between life and death.
Respect the Heat
The most common heat-related illness is heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats because you’ve been too active in extremely hot temperatures. In more severe cases, heat stroke, a life-threatening emergency, can develop.
Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke happen in very hot environments, where an individual is taking part in strenuous activity, like sports, while not consuming enough fluid and sodium.
Young children are at an increased risk for developing heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Some medications, including antihistamines, can interfere with how the body handles hot weather and also increase a person’s risk. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include a body temperature of about 100°F, fast pulse, moist skin and sweating, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness, confusion or headaches.
For those experiencing heat stroke, they may experience similar, but much more severe, symptoms. Their body temperature will rise to about 105° F or above, and they may be weak and lightheaded, have severe confusion, be agitated, become unconscious, seizure, and experience a rapid heartbeat and fast breathing. They may also become pale and cease sweating, meaning their body has stopped cooling itself and they are in grave danger.
The most important thing you can do is not ignoring the symptoms of heat illness. If you think that you, or a teammate, is experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke, you should immediately move to a cool, shady area, encourage the person to rest, and provide fluids, preferably with sodium and electrolytes.
To further cool the body, you should apply cold compresses or ice to the head, trunk and extremities. If ice is not available, you should help the athlete into a cold shower or hose down with cold water. Once you have actively begun the cooling process, you should seek immediate medical attention; heat illness can escalate quickly and is a medical emergency.
Athletes have a reputation for being tough, but the heat is not the time to prove it. Thankfully, most coaches and athletic trainers are educated and cautious about their athletes and the heat, but it never hurts to have heightened awareness.
And remember, begin the cooling process and call 9-1-1 immediately if you suspect heat stroke. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency and must be treated at a hospital.
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