Preventing Heat Illness In Athletes
Almost every year there is at least one report of an athlete who has suffered with a serious heat illness or a sudden death resulting from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. When someone is in extremely hot temperatures for an extended period of time, heat illness can chauffant occur, especially young athletes who are not conditioned to working out, practicing or competing in extremely hot temperatures. Football players are highly susceptible to heat illness, due to the amount of gear they must wear during practice and competition. It is vital for coaches, trainers, parents and athletes to be aware of the ways to prevent heat illness as well as know how to recognize the signs and symptoms associated with heat illness.
What are Heat Illnesses?
There are several different types of heat illness, each occurring in a different progression that if left untreated will lead to heat stroke, which is life threatening. It is important that coaches and trainers learn to recognize the types of heat illness and the signs and symptoms of each form. The different types and progression of heat illnesses that may appear prior to heat exhaustion or heat stroke include:
- Heat cramps typically affect those who sweat profusely during strenuous activities, such as football practice or competition. The excessive sweating causes the body to deplete its moisture and sodium, which cause cramping. Heat cramps are also one of the first signs to be aware of for possible heat exhaustion. Heat cramps are muscle spasms that typically occur in the legs, abdomen or arms.
- Heat edema is swelling of the feet or hands during hot weather. The heat causes blood vessels to dilate, which causes the swelling. If heat edema occurs, the person must sit down, raise their feet and/or arms and avoid activity until the swelling goes down.
- Heat rash, sometimes called prickly heat, is common in young athletes who are in the heat and sun for long periods of time. Heat rash is caused by the sweat glands being blocked, so the sweat stays trapped below the skin, which causes redness and inflammation.
- Heat stress occurs when athletes are in a stressful situation while in hot temperatures. For example, if it is extremely hot, the game depends on the player’s next move and they are physically exerted, it causes stress as well as overheating. Signs of heat stress include muscle spasms, hyperventilating or other problems breathing.
Heat exhaustion is a serious heat illness that often occurs in athletes. However, it is completely avoiding with correct prevention methods. When athletes are practicing and competing in hot temperatures, it causes them to sweat excessively, which leads to a loss of salt and water from the body. If heat exhaustion is not immediately treated, it will lead to heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include:
• Heat cramps
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• Pale skin
• Excessive sweating
It is common for athletes to experience heat stroke symptoms that are slightly different than typically symptoms of heat stroke. Athletes tend to experience “exertion heat stroke”, which means that they will continue to sweat, regardless of their core temperature. Heat stroke is an extremely serious heat illness that can lead to death if it is not medically treated immediately. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke may include:
• Hot, red and dry skin
• High body temperature
• Rapid pulse
• Throbbing headache
Preventing Heat Illness
The first step to preventing heat stroke is to prevent heat exhaustion. It is extremely important to stay well-hydrated. Coaches and trainers should have water or sports drinks available for athletes before, during and after practicing or competing. It is recommended that athletes drink at least 16 ounces of water or sports drink every hour to maintain the correct amount of electrolytes and hydration. Other methods for preventing heat exhaustion and heat stroke include: