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Heat Related Illnesses

We are definitely in the dog days of summer. As temperatures continue to climb, so does the risk of a heat-related illness. With many outdoor activities and sports happening, this is something all players, parents, and coaches need to be aware of.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the incidence of heat-related illness in high school athletes in the U.S. is 1.6 per 100,000 athletic exposures, or approximately 9,000 cases per year. Heat-related illness is the third leading cause of death in high school athletes, and cases have gradually increased over the past few years. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness is important. These include: heavy sweating, confusion, dizziness, nausea, fainting, dark-colored urine,  muscle cramping, and headache.

Obviously increasing temperatures are a risk factor for heat-related illness. However, you also need to consider the humidity. A relative humidity of greater than 60% hinders sweat evaporation, which interferes with the body’s ability to cool itself. The risk of heat-related illness increases when the heat index passes 90 degrees. It is important to consider the heat index is even higher when standing in full sunshine.

The good news is you can take steps to reduce your risk of heat-related illness.

  • Wear light weight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing and a hat whenever possible.
  • Sunscreen, SPF of 30 or greater, can help as well.
  • Drinking lots of fluids helps, but also do this before – not just during – an activity. A common error is thinking just bringing lots of water/sports drinks to practice or games is enough. But waiting to drink when the heat-index reaches 90-100 degrees, can already leave you dehydrated. A general recommendation is approximately 20 ounces of fluids 2-3 hours prior to an outdoor activity and 8 ounces in the 30-minutes leading up to the activity. During an outdoor activity you should drink another 8-10 ounces of fluids for every 20-30 minutes of activity (even if you don’t feel thirsty). Also, because heat-related illness can result from salt depletion, it may be best to substitute a sports drink with electrolytes during extreme heat.
  • Coaches should hold practices earlier in the day and/or in a shady area if possible. Limit practice length in times of extreme heat and require (not offer) water breaks.

If you think you experiencing symptoms of a heat-related illness, it is best to visit your nearest emergency room, whether at OrthoNebraska or elsewhere.

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