Beware of heat as practice returns
Over six million children will soon be heading out to athletic fields across the country to participate in a variety of fall sports. Unfortunately, practice sessions begin during the warmest months of the year, subjecting these athletes to one of the most frequent causes of death in sports.
Heat-related illnesses are a spectrum of conditions. Muscle cramps and exhaustion are fairly common. Cramps are usually related to poor hydration and electrolyte imbalances. Many athletes have a genetic predisposition to cramping and may require salt supplements.
Heat exhaustion is a sense of fatigue that results when the demand for increased blood flow cannot be met due to dehydration and cardiac failure. This can lead to syncope (fainting) when blood supply to the brain is inadequate.
Exertional heat stroke is a medical emergency that can potentially lead to death in minutes. It involves the escalation of hyperthermia to the point that it leads to cardiac failure and coma. It must be identified and treated swiftly and aggressively.
Treatment of heat-related illnesses involves adequate hydration either orally or intravenously. Heat stroke is treated by immediate immersion into a cold bath. This is followed by emergency transport to a medical center for further evaluation, treatment and observation.
“Acclimatization is the process that allows an athlete’s body to perform in warm climates by gradually increasing the amount of exposure to extreme conditions,” reports Dr. Rebecca Stearns, Chief Operating Officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. “Parents should be sure there is a heat acclimatization and weather policy that is followed by youth sports organizations before allowing their children to participate.”
First aid training for coaches and officials is crucial to identifying heat-related illnesses.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org