The dog days of summer mean grueling workouts for high-school football players in brutal temperatures, sometimes exceeding 100 degrees. Mild heat illness is all too common during football camps and the possibility of heat stroke is always a threat to your child’s health. According to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, 51 football players have died from heat stroke since 1995, 40 of them high-schoolers.
The word doesn’t seem to be getting out, or those who play sports and stay active aren’t hearing it. At one high school in Kentucky, six players were hospitalized with heat exhaustion symptoms during a single practice; at another, in Oregon, almost an entire team went to the hospital suffering from rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which heat and dehydration cause muscle tissue to break down.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heat waves claim more lives per year than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined. An average of 350 people die each year from heat-related illnesses.
Heat strokes can happen anywhere during the summer. Keep your student-athlete safe with these four steps:
1. Understand how high temperatures affect the body
Heat-related illnesses happen when the body can't keep itself cool. As the temperature rises, your body tries to cool down by sweating. When you don’t drink enough liquid to support all that sweating, the result is rapid dehydration. Humidity makes things worse: When there's moisture in the air, sweat doesn't evaporate as efficiently. Staying hydrated is essential for preventing heat stroke.
2. Know your child’s risk factors for heat stroke
Some people are more likely to experience distress in the heat than others. Thyroid disease and respiratory infections also make people more susceptible to heat.
3. Be alert for signs of trouble
Here are the progressive signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke:
- Muscle cramping and weakness
- Dark urine (which signals dehydration)
- Low fever
- Fast heartbeat and pulse
- Hot, dry skin (no sweat)
- High temperature
- Mental confusion or disorientation
- Loss of consciousness
Make sure you warn your child about these warning signs and encourage them that playing it safe isn’t a sign of weakness.
4. Take steps to stay cool
When you do exercise or work outside, follow these rules:
- Drink water frequently, whether or not you're thirsty.
- Check your urine. If it’s dark-colored or there’s not much of it, drink more water.
- Avoid drinks with caffeine or lots of sugar.
- Replace lost sodium and minerals by drinking electrolyte-boosting sports drinks or eating salty foods.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton, and avoid synthetic fabrics, which trap the heat.
- Carry a spray bottle, and spritz yourself with cold water.
- Don’t jump straight into a strenuous activity; work up to it gradually. (For example, walk, then jog, then run.)
- If you have to wear heat-trapping protective clothing or equipment, take it off during breaks.
- Be aware that sunburn can affect your body’s ability to release heat.