As temperatures remain high and sports teams begin their fall seasons, hydration becomes a prevalent concern. During the months of July, August and September it is extremely important that athletes consume enough water and electrolytes to keep their bodies cool during activity. Sweating is the body’s defense mechanism to keep from overheating; therefore, when the body can’t sweat to cool down, the athlete is in danger. The importance of keeping the body in a state of internal balance before, during and after activity not only affects an athlete’s performance on the field but also in training, strength and mental performance.
Heat illness can ultimately affect any athlete, no matter how well-trained. However, some medical situations can predispose a person to be more likely to become affected by a heat illness including obesity, the athlete’s level of fitness and diabetes. As previously mentioned, heat illnesses most often occur from an internal imbalance of the proper water and electrolyte composition. This imbalance first is sensed in the muscles with the onset of heat cramps, which usually are the first sign of heat illness. Heat cramps occur mostly in the abdomen and calf area. The next level of heat illness is heat exhaustion, which is characteristically signaled by profuse sweating, dizziness, nausea, pale skin and/or fainting. The third and most severe level of heat illness is heat stroke. Heat stroke happens when the athlete’s body can no longer cool itself because of the lack of water in the athlete’s system, thus resulting in a very high core body temperature (103 to 108 degrees). The characteristics of heat stroke are vomiting, hot/flushed skin, an inability to sweat, high blood pressure and shallow breathing. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and anyone who witnesses an athlete/individual with theses signs/symptoms should call 911.
The treatment plan for heat cramps is to get to a shady, cool area and have the athlete drink cool water. The athlete also should stretch out cramps. For athletes suffering from heat exhaustion, they should get to a cool area, be wiped off with a cool and damp towel, be given fluids, rest and be monitored. If the athlete experiences a heat stroke, a call to 911 should be made. Additionally, those assisting the athlete should help to cool the body as quickly as possible through the use of wet towels and fans, while also monitoring the athlete’s condition until relieved by emergency medical service personnel.
A major key in the prevention of heat illness is to prepare the body before physical activity by drinking plenty of fluids such as water and sports drinks (no caffeinated sodas and no sugary drinks). Other preventive measures to take include wearing light (colors and fabrics) clothing while practicing, taking water breaks at least every 15 minutes, getting in the shade during breaks, and eating nutritious meals that contain calcium and potassium -- staying away from salty foods.
The most important thing to do is decrease the occurrence of a heat illness by being smart and listening to your body.
Beth Emeterio is a certified athletic trainer with Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation. Total Rehabilitation offers certified athletic trainers assigned to area middle and high schools, free injury assessments for student athletes, goal-oriented rehabilitation programs, home and away athletic event coverage, injury-prevention conditioning programs, and personalized rehabilitation plans including physical and aquatic therapies.