Heat-Related Injuries in Sports… Education and Hydration Matter!

In recent years, more reports of heat-related illnesses and serious injuries (such as death) have surfaced when practicing/playing in very warm environments.  More often, these athletes are younger athletes, not adults who suffer these injuries because of improper recognition of the injury initially by their coaches and staff.  I will highlight the 4 major heat-related illnesses involved in sports participation and what you can do should you see someone exhibiting symptoms.

1) Heat Cramps: Form of muscle spasms due to excessive sweating and a lack of Na (sodium) loss, not Potassium (K) in the body; one should rest the athlete, increase fluids like Gatorade or electrolyte drinks, gently stretch the affected area, get the athlete if possible to a cool, dry place, and rest the athlete until they display signs of improvement.

2) Heat Syncope (“fainting”)-Form of loss of consciousness from when the athlete collapses due to excessive sweating and increased dilation of blood vessels within the body; blood tends to pool in your extremities; one should elevate the limbs involved, rest the athlete, cool the athlete down, and have the athlete drink slowly to help circulate the pooled blood.

3) Heat Exhaustion-Form of shock characterized by hypovolemia (salt depletion as a result of excessive sweating and water depletion out of the body); they will exhibit weakness, muscle cramps, nausea, and differs from heat stroke because they’re sweating; one should treat them as if they’re being treated for muscle cramps (cool, dry place, gradual fluid uptake, rest the athlete and remove from competition.

4) Heat Stroke-Serious medical emergency where the core body temperature is above 104 degrees; the heart slows its ability to pump blood effectively and the athlete stops sweating; lastly, it is characterized by changes to their mental status (heat stroke tends to occur in elderly people, younger children, and people with chronic diseases (cardiac disease, Diabetes, cardiopulmonary diseases)); call 911 or activate EMS for help

Early recognition and proper education to parents, coaches, and players prevent serious heat-related illnesses from occurring.  It is critical to ensure that proper heat acclimatization occurs over a period of 10-14 days to avoid these illnesses from coming on.  Also, educating your athletes on proper hydration in warm climates is necessary to help them train and/or play properly (i.e. not coke or energy drinks, but rather Gatorade or other electrolyte drinks) so they can compete at their best.

Stay tuned to next month’s blog.
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