Heat stroke prevention for young athletes

Conditioning for fall sports, like football, cross country and even marching band, has started but research shows that heat-related deaths are behind most indirect deaths in high school sports. Parents need to make their athlete take it slow when starting outdoor workouts and be aware of the dangers.

Heat exhaustion happens when the body’s natural cooling system gets tired from working too hard. Symptoms include fatigue, profuse sweating, dizziness and decreased exercise performance.

“When an athlete notices these symptoms, it is time for a break to cool off,” says Dr. Lora Scott, medical director of sports medicine at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “Sometimes ten minutes at the water cooler is enough. Other times, they may need shade or air-conditioning for several hours. They are at higher risk of getting sick again for 24 hours.”

Heat stroke happens when the body starts to shut down because it is too hot. If nothing is done, the person will die. An athlete with heat stroke may look like they have heat exhaustion, but they also start to have nervous system symptoms. These could be mild, like confusion or a short temper. They could be more serious, like seizures or loss of consciousness.

“Cooling within 30 minutes is the best predictor of life or death, in this situation,” says Dr. Scott. “Call 911 and do whatever it takes to cool them off fast.”

Heat stroke prevention day is July 31, one day before official practices for many sports begin. It’s a good time to review these tips.

Allow time to adapt. “Let kids start with easy outdoor training sessions to give the body time to adapt,” says Dr. Scott. “They may not be able to do their usual workouts when they move from the indoors to the outdoors. That is OK. Give it time.”

Stay hydrated. “Elite athletes can sweat up to four liters per hour!,” says Dr. Scott. “It is not practical to drink four liters in an hour, so practicing good hydration all day is important.” Drink until urine is colorless or very light yellow.

Listen to your body. If you feel overworked, it means your body is not ready for this level of exercise in this level of heat. You either need to cool off, or ease up on the exercise, or both. Take the time to condition safely.

Educate coaches. Make practice easier on the hottest days or move it indoors. Give the team unlimited access to water. Take a collapsed athlete seriously. Make sure you are following the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines on length, intensity and frequency of practice.

Treat suspected heat stroke. If an athlete acts strangely, think heat stroke. “Call 911 and cool them off immediately,” says Dr. Scott. “Place them in a tub of ice water, pour water from a cooler over them, put ice packs on their neck, armpits and groin, use a garden hose if you have to. This is a life-or-death situation, and treatment is easily available and free.”

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This look at a children’s health or safety issue comes from Dayton Children’s Hospital. Email: newsroom@childrensdayton.org.

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