High school athletes across the state have spent the summer preparing for rigorous preseason workouts. Most healthy children and adolescents can safely participate in outdoor sports and other physical activities in whatever weather summer throws their way. But as the temperature rises, so does the risk for heat stress from over-exertion, as well as other heat-related illnesses.
Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to cool itself by sweating. Several heat-induced illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and the more severe heat stroke can occur. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), heat stress is usually caused by known risk factors, in addition to hot and humid weather, including:
- Poor preparation. This includes not being acclimated to the heat; not getting enough prehydration (hydration before exercise); not getting enough sleep and rest before practice; and being physically out of shape;
- Insufficient access to fluids;
- Being overweight or obese;
- Medications that might decrease exercise heat tolerance (such as ADHD medications);
- Recent illness, such as stomach flu or any illness with a fever;
- Clothing/uniform that retains too much heat;
- Excessive physical exertion without enough rest between intense workout sessions.
Knowing the signs of dehydration can help coaches, parents and athletes avoid more serious heat-related illnesses. If your child tires easily and repeatedly during practices and appears irritable, or his/her performance suddenly declines, dehydration and/or inadequate calorie intake may be the cause.
Look for these other signs of dehydration:
- Fatigue or weakness;
- Urine that is bright yellow in color (urine should be almost clear);
- Apathy or lack of energy;
- Trouble concentrating;
The following are signs of severe dehydration:
- Dry lips and tongue;
- Sunken eyes;
- Brightly colored or dark urine, or urine with a strong odor;
- Infrequent urination;
- Small volume of urine.
The AAP recommends the following for parents, coaches, trainers and athletes to minimize the potential for heat-related illnesses:
- Provide and promote drinks, both before and after an activity, to prevent dehydration;
- Allow athletes enough time to adjust to the heat and intensity of workouts;
- Modify physical activity when it’s too hot;
- Limit an athlete’s participation if he/she was recently sick, especially with fever, diarrhea or vomiting;
- Monitor athletes for signs of heat illness and be prepared to treat athletes affected by the heat – by calling for emergency services and rapidly cooling victims of moderate or severe heat stress.
Proper nourishment is also essential for peak athletic performance. For more on good nutrition for athletes, check Colorado State University Extension’s fact sheet.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association has Heat Index Procedures, which you can review here.
And remember, if you are concerned about a particular team’s practices, talk to your district’s athletic director. Safety should always be the priority.
The National Athletic Trainers Association has developed heat acclimatization guidelines. According to NATA, “The goal of the acclimatization period is to enhance exercise heat tolerance and the ability to exercise safely and effectively in warm to hot conditions.” Although New York is not among the states who have adopted the guidelines, you can read more about them here.
Read more about dehydration signs and symptoms.