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Beating the Heat

It’s that time of year again. School is about to start and with it all of the sports for fall. But as many of us know, those sports are beginning right now with their preseason conditioning. These sports include cross country running, soccer, football and many others. To talk about training at this time of year is to also talk about the dangers of training in the heat. Why is this so important? Part of the problem regarding heat-related medical illnesses has to do with lack of acclimatization to the heat. Since most of the athletes who are training now are beginning their training, many are not acclimatized, which can lead to medical problems.

What risk factors are there to practicing in the heat? First, as mentioned before, there is the lack of acclimatization. Second, there is the increased amount of equipment worn (in the case of football in particular), there is the lack of conditioning and hydration that develops when competing.

It is important for coaches, parents, athletes and doctors to know these risk factors when assessing the situation of summer training. A combination of all or just one of these can lead to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

Symptoms to be concerned with when dealing with these are:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fast or irregular heart rate
  • Excessive sweating or, in the case of heat stroke, lack of sweating
  • Confusion.

What do you do if these symptoms occur? First and foremost, get the athlete out of the heat. Whether that is by getting him or her into the shade, inside an air-conditioned environment or in a cold pool or tub, getting out of the heat can do wonders for the body when trying to rid itself of excessive heat. Other things that can be done are more preventative in nature. Keep the athlete as hydrated as possible. A lack of hydration leads to an inability of the body to rid itself of the heat appropriately through sweating. Take frequent breaks – this allows the body to cool adequately. Wear less gear – sometimes wearing less pads (especially in football) for a period of time can allow for practice to continue without problems on hotter days. Practice at cooler times of the day. Practicing in early morning or later evening when the heat of the day is not at its height is a way to avoid heat exhaustion.

Even when using all of these preventive measures, it is possible for problems with heat to occur in athletes. It is important that an athletic trainer or medical personnel be available at all practices and games to monitor the situation.

Some faster treatments involve cool water or ice to the armpits, back of the neck or groin. Immersion in a pool of cool water is usually the best way to treat if an athlete is showing signs of heat exhaustion.

Please make sure to be careful when practicing and training in this hot weather. It is important to teach an athlete the ability to endure in trying environments, but it is equally important to teach them to be smart about their health. Have a great season!

Michael Messmer, DO, CAQSM, is a sports medicine physician at St. Francis Family Medicine at Hunter’s Ridge. Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.

Posted by MMessmer on 08/13/2012 at 11:45 AM Add Comment

Contributor Profile
 Michael Messmer, D.O.
 Sports Medicine Physician
 Dr. Messmer, board certified in family practice and sports medicine, is a physician at St. Francis Family Medicine at Hunter's Ridge. He enjoys martial arts, hockey, sucba diving, weight lifting, backpacking and camping. He also speaks Spanish.