By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
Coaches, parents and players need to be particularly aware of exertional heat illness (EHI) during the summer months.
A recently published study identified that most EHI occurred during August. Interestingly, the authors found that EHI was common in all body types, with no significant increase in obese players.
What Is Heat Illness?
“Heat Illness” is a broad term used for a range of problems such as dehydration, cramping, dizziness, heat exhaustion and a very serious problem called heat stroke.
Young athletes are at a higher risk than adults for developing heat illnesses. Children absorb heat faster than adults, they don’t sweat as much (sweat helps the body cool), they take longer to get conditioned to exercising in warmer weather and often they don’t feel the need to drink fluids before or during exercise.
Fortunately, there are a number of simple steps that can greatly reduce the risk of heat illnesses when playing in hot weather.
Recognizing Heat Illness
Most young athletes will first start to show signs of heat-related illness through dehydration. The athlete may come off the field complaining of being tired, having leg cramps or feeling light-headed.
Here are some things you may notice from the young player with heat illness:
* Decreased performance
* Skin that ranges from pale or sweaty to cool and clammy. If the skin is hot it's a red flag!
* Possibly irritable
* May have difficulty paying attention or following directions.
Managing Heat Illness
* Get the athlete off the field and let him lie down in a cool, shaded place.
* Elevate the legs above the level of the head.
* Provide a sports drink (not carbonated, no caffeine).
* Remove pads, and any tight-fitting clothing and remove socks.
* If the player doesn’t start to feel better within 10-15 minutes, seek medical help.
* Prevent future dehydration with a good hydration strategy.
Young athletes should respond within 10-15 minutes from re-hydrating. You should see him “perk up” and get back toward his normal attitude and appearance. If an athlete does not improve, it may signal more severe dehydration and she should be evaluated in the emergency department of the local hospital. As with any medical condition it’s always best to get qualified medical help (Emergency Medical Technician or other emergency transport) if you have any questions whatsoever about the young athlete’s health.
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(Dr. Dev K. Mishra is the creator of the SidelineSportsDoc.com injury management program for coaches. He is an orthopedic surgeon in private practice in Burlingame, Calif. He is a member of the team physician pool with the U.S. Soccer Federation and has served as team physician at the University of California, Berkeley. This article first appeared on SidelineSportsDoc.com.)