Preventing Heat Related Illnesses in Student Athletes

Summer is still lingering on, and with it the risk for heat related illness. If not adequately prepared, students can suffer from a heat related illnesses on even a moderately hot day if there is high humidity.

As parent’s, coaches and trainers it’s important to understand the warning signs of heat exhaustion, stroke and cramps. Doing so can help keep the harmful affects of the heat at bay.

Signs of heat exhaustion include pale, cold skin, a fast, weak pulse and heavy sweating. Hot, red skin, a fast, strong pulse and a high body temperature are symptoms of heat stroke. Heat cramps consist of muscle pain or spasms. If not treated quickly, it is possible for a student athlete to loose consciousness from heat exhaustion or a stroke.

Student athletes on the football field are most at risk for heat exhaustion, stroke or cramping. According to one study, football players are 11.4 times more likely to experience a heat related illness than athletes participating in other high school sporting activities. However, there are many ways to prevent being overheated.

1. Heat Acclimation

As many outdoor sporting events take place during some of the hottest times of the year, one major way to prevent a heat related illness is to get acclimated to exerting yourself in the heat. By slowly building a tolerance, your body can get accustom to the climate. This means gradually increasing the intensity and duration of a workout. Coaches and trainers should keep this in mind when scheduling practices or workouts and aim for cooler parts of the day when possible.

2. Hydration

Staying hydrated means drinking plenty of water before, during and after physical activity. This helps ensure that one’s body is able to maintain a healthy temperature. Student athletes should also have unlimited access to water.

3. Listening

As a student athlete it’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. Know when to take a break. As a coach or trainer, listen to your athletes and keep a watchful eye for signs and symptoms of heat illness. Headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and disorientation are all grounds to pull someone off the field.

4. Preparation

In the event that someone does need to cool down, keep cold compresses on hand. Encourage loose fitting clothes to better circulate air flow and lighter colors that don’t attract the sun. In the case of a stroke, seek medical attention immediately. If the symptoms of heat exhaustion or cramps persist and the student is known to have a history of health issues, don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a medical professional.

Dr. Stacie Grossfeld is a member of Baptist Sports Medicine and enjoys serving as the Team Doctor for South Oldham High School. In addition, she was recently named Team Doctor for Assumption High School in Louisville, KY.