Amid one of the hottest summers on record in many states, practice for fall sports has already begun. It is important to remember that extreme heat is especially dangerous for athletes.
To help ensure the well-being of athletes, the American Red Cross has tips to keep players safe during hot weather activity including hydration and acclimatization.
“Keeping athletes safe during extreme temperatures is as important as getting them ready for the upcoming season,” said Dr. David Markenson, chair of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council.
“One of the most important thing athletes can do is stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids like water or sports drinks with electrolytes before, during and after practice – even if you are not thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol,” Markenson added.
During the hot weather, team practices should be scheduled for early in the day and later in the evening to avoid exposing players to the hottest times of the day. Other steps teams, schools and parents should take to protect their athletes include:
• Allow athletes to get acclimated to the heat by reducing the intensity of practice until they are more accustomed to it.
• Make frequent, longer breaks a regular part of practice. About every 20 minutes stop for fluids and try to keep the athletes in the shade if possible.
• Reduce the amount of heavy equipment—like football pads—athletes wear in extremely hot, humid weather.
• Dress athletes, when appropriate, in net-type jerseys or light-weight, light-colored, cotton T-shirts and shorts.
• Know the signs of heat-related emergencies and monitor athletes closely. “Knowing the signs of heat-related emergencies and how to help someone who is suffering from the heat is vital,” Markenson said. “Coaches and parents need to be vigilant in watching for signs of heat-related emergencies. Athletes should inform their coaches, teachers or parents if they are not feeling well.”
Heat illness is when the body temperature rises because of exertion. If a person's body temperature hits 103 degrees, that means the person is suffering from heat exhaustion. If a person’s body temperature hits 104 degrees or higher, that means the person is suffering from heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion is caused by a combination of exercise induced heat and fluid and electrolyte loss from sweating. Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea; dizziness; weakness; and exhaustion. To help someone with these symptoms:
• Move the person to a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing. Spray him or her with water or apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Fan the person. If the person is conscious, give small amounts of cool water cool water or a sports drink with electrolytes to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Watch for changes in his or her condition.
• If the person refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number. Heat stroke (also known as sunstroke) is a life-threatening condition in which a person’s temperature control system stops working and the body is unable to cool itself.
• Signs of heat stroke include those of heat exhaustion and hot, red skin which may be dry or moist; change or loss of consciousness; seizures; vomiting; and high body temperature.
• Heat stroke is life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
• Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the person’s body by immersing them up to their neck in cold water if possible. If unable to immerse them, continue rapid cooling by applying bags of ice or cold packs wrapped in a cloth to the wrists, ankles, groin, neck and armpits, spraying with water and/or fanning.
Exertional heat stroke is the leading cause of preventable death in high school athletics, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Deaths from heat stroke are preventable and precautions need to be taken around summer heat hazards.
First Aid, Health and Safety for Coaches, an online course jointly developed with the National Federation of State High School Associations, will be available soon. Until then, you can learn how to prevent and respond to heat-related and other emergencies by taking a First Aid/CPR/AED course. Visit redcross.org/training to register.