Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot? Preventing Heat Illness in High School Athletes

Every August, stories pop up in the news about high school student-athletes who die from complications of heat-related illness. But how often do these problems occur, and are athletes in some sports more vulnerable than others?

courtesy of flickr user Tommyboy74

A CDC study found what common sense might suggests: Football players were 10 times more likely than athletes in eight other sports to suffer heat-related illnesses that caused them to miss at least one day of play. Also not surprising: 65% of the football players with heat-related illnesses were overweight (BMI of 25-29) or obese (BMI of 30 or higher).

The CDC reviewed data from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study on students from 100 high schools between 2005 and 2009, and published the findings in last week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Sports practice in the heat of August can be called a necessary evil (the kids probably have a better word for it). School starts in September, and fall sports teams start competing as early as Labor Day weekend. Football practices in particular involve many hours outside during the hottest times of the day, at the hottest time of the year.

Doctors who serve as team physicians, or those who might consider volunteering their services to a local school, can help keep kids safe during those dog day practices by reminding coaches and parents about three key areas:

-Acclimatization. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) released guidelines last year suggesting a 14-day acclimatization period for hot-weather sports practices. Ideally, coaches would increase the duration and intensity of practices gradually over this time, to help cut down on the risk of heat exhaustion. But even if you don’t have 14 days, building up the intensity gradually can help kids adjust to the heat and avoid injury.

-Hydration.  The NATA recommends 200-300 mL of water or other fluid for athletes for every 10-20 minutes of exercise. Of course, hydration needs vary with temperature and humidity, but this is a useful reference point for a hot, humid practice session. Read the current NATA response to an IOM report about water and electrolytes.

-Humidity. The bane of summer practices. A 90-degree day with 20%-30% percent humidity (it’s a dry heat) is much different than a 90-degree day with 80% humidity (you will have to pry your practice gear off like a wetsuit). If the humidity is high, postpone the harder workout for a drier day, if possible, NATA recommends.

—Heidi Splete

On twitter @hsplete

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Filed under IMNG, Pediatrics, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Primary care, Sports Medicine

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