With our record breaking warm weather this summer, it is important to know the signs of heat exhaustion especially in young athletes. Even the most highly conditioned athletes can become victims of heat stroke if they don’t take special precautions when exercising in hot, humid weather. Heat stroke is the most serious of all heat-related conditions and it should be treated as a medical emergency.
Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency in which the body’s cooling systems stop working and the core temperature can rise to dangerous levels.
Signs and Symptoms
- hot, dry skin,
- lack of sweating,
- a very fast pulse,
- confusion and perhaps seizures or coma.
If untreated, heat stroke can be fatal.
Athletes generally suffer a slightly different type of heat stroke called exertional heat stroke. In exertional heat stroke, victims continue to sweat, despite the increased core temperature. For athletes, the diagnosis of heat stroke is made with a core temperature above 105 F and mental status changes, such as confusion, disorientation and clumsiness. You may collapse and go into a coma if symptoms are ignored. If any of these symptoms of heat stroke are present, emergency treatment and cooling the patient immediately is essential.
Preventing heat stroke begins with preventing heat exhaustion. This includes acclimating to hot conditions slowly, staying well-hydrated with proper hydration and avoiding exercise during the hottest part of the day. Hydrate well before and during exercise and replace lost electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and magnesium with food or a sports drink (drink 16 to 20 oz/hour).
Wear light, loose clothing. Or wear clothes made with wicking fabrics such as CoolMax®, Drymax®, Smartwool or polypropylene. These fibers have tiny channels that wick the moisture from your skin to the outer layer of the clothing where it can evaporate more easily. Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn, which can limit the skin’s ability to cool itself.
If symptoms are noted, stop activity and seek a cool shaded place. Remember, it is easier to prevent heat illness than to treat it once symptoms develop.
The first step in treating heat stroke is to reduce body temperature by cooling the body from the outside. This can be done by removing tight or unnecessary clothing, spraying the person with water, blowing cool air on the person, or wrapping the person loosely in wet sheets. Alternatively, ice packs can be placed at the neck, groin and armpits to accelerate cooling.
When To Call A Professional
Seek emergency help if you or someone else has been in the heat and experiences confusion, faintness, staggering, hallucinations, unusual agitation or coma. Begin cooling the person immediately.
Return to Play
The athlete’s physician should devise a careful return-to-play strategy that can be implemented with the assistance of a qualified health care professional.