Preventing Heat Illness in Young Athletes
Many young athletes are gearing up for fall sports and activities. This means less rest, long hours of training, extra sun exposure and added layers of equipment that together increase the risk of heat illness. Heat illness includes several conditions ranging from mild dehydration and muscle cramps to more extreme cases of heat stroke.
Though heat illness prevention practices have greatly improved in Texas schools and across the country, it’s concerning to see athletes who, for example, sit on the couch all summer playing video games in the air conditioning. Like many, they show up to preseason training out of shape and poorly prepared for the heat.
To manage heat from the environment and from activities, the body must be in balance. Most athletes need guidance from adults to make good choices throughout the year, especially in the summer and as they begin intensive training, like preseason football two-a-days.
Here are some suggestions for parents and coaches who want to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses in young athletes in all sports:
Encourage your athlete to:
Adopt healthy sleep habits
Choose healthy food options
Limit consumption of caffeinated and sugary beverages
Drink water throughout the day
Remain physically activity throughout the summer
Plan activities to acclimate to the heat BEFORE training begins
Slowly increase time and intensity DURING the season
Continue to provide conditioning activities throughout the season
Notify athletic trainers of fever or changes in medical history
Update the organization’s Emergency Action Plan to ensure preparedness for heat illness
When planning and leading long sessions or training in hot indoor or outdoor environments, coaches can help reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses with these tips:
Encourage frequent and adequate rest and water breaks, every 15 – 20 minutes
Provide sports drinks with 6-8% carbohydrates for training lasting more than 60 minutes
Avoid training in direct sunlight and provide shade for breaks
Encourage removal of equipment during breaks, e.g., helmet
Encourage athletes to wear loose-fitting, light-colored and moisture-wicking clothing
Know the signs and symptoms of heat illness (See Figure 1)
Insist on proper conditioning; it takes 10-14 days to adapt to heat
Avoid practice from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. when the sun is most intense
Follow league or organization guidelines for practice schedules
Modify or cancel activity, as needed, based on temperature and humidity warnings
Provide resources for rapid cooling, e.g., immersion tub of ice and water, iced towels
For events where there is a high risk of heat illness, medical personnel, including but not limited to an athletic trainer, is ideal. It is also important to have access to a method of quick cooling. This could be iced-down towels, or for fastest results, a body-sized tub or kiddie pool filled with ice and water. Taking steps to prevent and responding early to signs and symptoms of heat illness are the best ways to reduce heat illness young athletes.
Shane M. Miller, M.D. is board certified in pediatrics and sports medicine. He is a sports medicine physician at the Center for Excellence in Sports Medicine at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. Dr. Miller is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. He also holds an appointment as Assistant Professor of Orthopedics and Pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He sees patients for sports injuries including bone, muscle and ligament injuries as well as sports concussions at our North Campus, now in Plano.
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