With high school, college and NFL football training ramping up over the next few weeks, heat-related illness will be a concern as the above-average summer still has the heat turned on for much of the country. Much of the South will continue to broil under above-average temperatures and very high humidity.
Already nine student football players have been taken to the hospital for heat-related illness and dehydration in Alabama and Kentucky. NFL cities such as Foxboro, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans have all been at least 2 degrees above normal, which is very significant this time of year.
Frederick Mueller is the director of the National Center of Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and publishes an Annual Survey of Football Injury Research. According to the most recent report, 2009 had three cases of heat stroke death at the high school level and one case at the collegiate level, with 42 total (high school, college, professional) football player heat stroke deaths occurring since 1995.
Mueller, who is also a professor of exercise and sports science at the university, said heat-related illness is preventable as long as the proper precautions are taken, and most of heat-related deaths occur with younger players during the first few weeks of practice.
“Parents should be aware what coaches are doing,” he said. “They should know what procedures are in place.”
Dr. Kristen Clary, a family medicine physician who specializes in primary care sport medicine says children are most susceptible because they don’t sweat as much, they also have a relatively higher surface area than adults do, which also makes them more prone to heat-related illness.
Adam Day, a certified athletic trainer and the head athletic trainer at State College Area School District in State College, Pa., said adolescents are at higher risk because their circulatory systems heat up faster and cool down slower. Obese athletes are also at a higher risk.
Most kids aren’t in tune enough with their bodies to know that thirst means dehydration, and they try to work through the thirst.
Symptoms of heat illness and heat exhaustion include fatigue, dizziness and thirst. However, symptoms such as decreased sweating, confusion and disorientation could indicate heat stroke, a serious condition that results in a body system shutdown and could be fatal if not treated properly.
When a person is showing symptoms of heat illness, you need to attempt to cool them down immediately. Removing heavy equipment such as pads and helmets, taking the person to a shaded area and applying ice packs are all ways to quickly lower a person’s body temperature.
If the person hasn’t shown signs of improvement after a few minutes, then medical attention is crucial. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, the affected person should be stabilized and cooled down, preferably by placing the person in a tub of ice water.
Coaches need to push plenty of fluids and increase adequate rest periods to help prevent heat-related illness, but the weather is also an important factor. The heat index need to be heeded, and when temperatures are deemed too hot for a full practice, coaches should switch to film sessions, weight room training, or walkthroughs with helmets only, and schedule more two-a-day rigorous sessions to before 10 am or after 8 pm. Avoid all outdoor work between 3pm and 7pm.
Weigh-ins are also used to prevent illness. Players weigh in prior to and following practices to keep track of a player’s water weight loss. If the player has not gained the weight back by the next practice, they should be monitored and/or sit out of the practice. Force extra water and health energy drinks to keep hydration and electrolytes high and pay attention to good nutrition meals more than usual in the hot weather.