5 Tips to Prevent Heat Illness

As athletes take to the outdoors during the sweltering summer months, a few people will inevitably suffer from heat-related illness.

Heat illness is a serious condition that can be prevented if you pay attention to the warning signs. Most common during the middle of the summer, heat illness can affect anyone who over exerts themselves under the sun, but the people most at risk include; overweight or large athletes, the elderly, children, and those who are poorly acclimated to the high temperatures.

Particular attention should also be paid to athletes who require additional padding or helmets such as football players (specific safety guidelines for these athletes can be found by visiting the National Athletic Trainers' Association homepage).

What Causes Heat Ilness?

Simply put, heat illness is the body's inability to cool itself. While our bodies are generally hot to begin with, maintaining a constant temperature of around 98.6 degrees Farenheit. There are internal and external factors that when combined can produce a potentially lethal reaction.

We create our own internal body heat through the process of metabolism--the process by which our bodies convert nutrients to energy. This process, called basal metabolism, is the base amount of nutrient conversion the body needs to sustain life.

Another form of heat production occurs from muscular activity or through exercise. The blood rushing into the muscles during exercise raises the body's core temperature and causes heat to be produced in the extremities.

The body's natural reaction to the rise in temperature is to sweat . Perspiration is the body's natural way of cooling itself, but after a certain point the body loses its ability to naturally cool itself and begins to suffer from heat-related illness.

There are three stages of heat-related illness, each with very distinct characteristics. By learning to recognize the symptoms you can prevent the problem from escalating into a potentially life threatening incident.

Heat Cramps: Characterized by involuntary muscle spasms, profuse sweating, normal pulse and respirations, possible dizziness.

Treatment: Sit in a cool place. Massage cramps with ice, stretch, drink water and diluted electrolyte drinks.

Heat Exhaustion: Skin becomes cool and clammy, profuse sweating, dizzy or disoriented, breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and the pulse is weak.

Treatment: Remove wet clothing and equipment, cool rapidly (ice water on skin or submerge in ice bath), use fan if possible, may need IV fluids.

Heat Stroke: Increased irritability followed by apathy, very disoriented and unsteady, pulse is strong and rapid, skin is hot and dry, blood pressure will drop convulsions, and possibly coma.

Treatment: Activate 911 response immediately--this is a medical emergency and can lead to death. Cool rapidly with ice or submerge in ice bath, treat for shock, and transfer to trauma center as soon as possible.

All three types of heat-related illness should be treated without delay because progression from one stage to the next can happen suddenly and without warning.

How to Avoid Heat-Related Illness

To avoid heat related illness one should:
  •    Stay hydrated properly with water and diluted electrolyte
       drinks. When the body becomes dehydrated it loses its ability
       to properly cool itself.
  •    Make sure you acclimatize to your environment; if you spend
       all day indoors in a controlled environment you are more likely
       to suffer from heat related illness when you exercise outdoors
       in the heat.
  •    Remember to rehydrate after daily exercise; keep a weight
       chart that is measured both pre and post exercise so you
       know how much water you need to replace, eight ounces of
       water for every pound of body weight lost.
  •    Wear loose comfortable clothing; synthetics are best for
       wicking water from the skin.
  •    If you have a pre-existing health problem, ask your doctors
       advice before jumping into outdoor activities.

Always remember--stay hydrated, keep cool and you will enjoy the hot summer months.
Athletic trainers are health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to optimize activity and participation of patients and clients. Athletic training encompasses the prevention, diagnosis, and intervention of emergency, acute, and chronic medical conditions involving impairment, functional limitations and disabilities. The California Athletic Trainers Association represents and supports members of the athletic training profession through communication and education.

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