We’re in the midst of another go-round of excessive heat and humidity, with temps hovering around the mid- to upper 90s and humidity numbers rising to the uncomfortable category.
Youth sports don’t go on hiatus during the summer. Practices, training and games go on. According to all the experts, young athletes face a higher risk of heat illness because of inexperience. They don’t recognize the symptoms of heat illness and they may feel pressure to continue practice or play.
Also, kids’ lower body weight in proportion to their greater body surface area increases their risk of succumbing to heat.
It’s up to adults to know the signs of heat illness, to take steps to help prevent it and to know what to do in the event a child develops heat exhaustion or stroke. These conditions are 100 percent preventable.
According to the Mayo Clinic, heatstroke is a condition caused when the body overheats due to prolonged exposure or extreme physical exertion. The body temperature rises to a dangerous level. Heat illness begins with dehydration, progresses to heat exhaustion and, if not treated, will advance to heatstroke, which can be fatal.
According to TrueSport, signs of dehydration include:
• Increased thirst
• Dry mouth
• Tiredness, lack of energy
• Reduced urine output
• Darker urine color
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
• Profuse sweating or pale skin
• Loss of coordination, dizziness, fainting
• Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
• Persistent muscle cramps
• Stomach cramps
And for heatstroke:
• Potential loss of consciousness
• Central nervous system dysfunction, such as seizures, confusion, emotional instability, combativeness or irrational behavior
• Headache, dizziness and weakness
• Hot skin, with or without sweating
• Increased heart rate and rapid breathing
• Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
TrueSport also lists the following factors that can elevate heat illness risk:
• Insufficient heat acclimation.
• Low cardiovascular fitness.
• Successive sessions of exercise or intensity of exercise exertion with insufficient rest and rehydration.
• Wearing excessive clothing and equipment.
• Certain medications.
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Youth athletes, below the high school level, are not the only people at risk of heat illness. The National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study collected data among high school athletes, 119 cases of heat-related illness, over four years. Representing an estimated incidence of almost 38,000 cases, the study suggested about 9,500 U.S. high school athletes sustained some type of heat illness each year. Seventy-five percent occurred during practice, 63 percent occurred during preseason.
Eighty percent of the events occurred among football players, but other sports are not immune. The good news is six in 10 athletes were able to return to the sport within a few days, likely due to education and the quick diagnosis and treatment. However, three percent missed at least three weeks of play or did not return at all.
TrueSport notes to prevent heat illness coaches and parents should:
• Ensure athletes are adequately hydrated before practice or competition.
• Make fluids readily available.
• Remove equipment/clothing. As temps increase, practices should be modified to remove the need for equipment that increases heat retention, including helmets, shoulder pads and restrictive clothing.
• Schedule practices and competitions during cooler portions of the day.
• Provide shade and water for dousing and wetting clothing during breaks.
• Monitor fluid intake and athlete behavior. Talk during breaks, assign “hydration buddies.”
• Increase frequency of breaks.
According to TrueSport, the Georgia High School Association mandated activity and rest break guidelines based on Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, a measure that takes into account temperature, humidity, sun angle and other factors in measuring “heat stress.”
Wet Bulb Temp.
• 82 degree — Normal Activities. Provide at least three separate rest breaks per hour, minimum of three minutes each. Use discretion for intense or prolonged exercise; watch closely at-risk athletes.
• 82-86.9 — Provide at least three separate rest breaks per hour, a minimum of four minutes each. Maximum practice time should be two hours. For football, restrict players to helmets, pads and shorts during practice. All protective equipment must be removed during conditioning activities.
• 87-89.9 — If Wet Bulb rises to this level during practice, players may continue to work out wearing football pants without changing to shorts. For all sports, provide at least four separate rest breaks per with a minimum of four minutes.
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• 90-92 — Maximum practice time of one hour. For football, no protective equipment may be worn during practice and no conditioning. All sports, must have 20 minutes of rest breaks distributed throughout the hour.
• More than 92.0 — No outdoor workouts.
If a heat illness develops despite precautions being taken, here are a few steps to take with the victim.
• Move into shade or air-conditioning.
• Remove equipment and extra clothing.
• Cool athlete with cold water, fans and/or cold towels.
• Lie with legs raised above heart level.
• Drink chilled water or sports drink if not nauseated or vomiting.
• If suspected heat stroke, call emergency medical personnel immediately.
One final tip. The athlete should not return to play until all symptoms are gone. He or she should take the rest of the day off and perhaps the following day, as well. If heat stroke is the condition, play should be resumed only with a doctor’s approval.
Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at email@example.com