Types of Heat Illness
Heat cramps are severe cramping of the skeletal muscles, particularly those most heavily used during exercise. Heat cramps are treated by moving the individual to a cooler location and administering fluids or a saline solution.
Heat exhaustion, accompanied by such symptoms as fatigue, dizziness, and vomiting, is caused by the body’s cardiovascular system not meeting the body’s needs; heat exhaustion typically occurs when your blood volume decreases, by either excessive fluid loss or mineral loss from sweating.
The most dangerous type of heat illness, heat stroke is characterized by a rise in internal body temperature, cessation of sweating, hot and dry skin, rapid pulse and respiration, high blood pressure, confusion, and unconsciousness.
In addition to immediately contacting medical personnel, individuals can treat heat stroke by cooling the person’s body in a bath of water or ice or wrapping the body in a wet sheet and fanning the victim.
Although deaths from heat illness are rare, constant surveillance and education are necessary in order to maintain the safety and health of student-athletes.
The following practices should be observed in order to prevent any form of heat illness:
Prior to participating, an initial and complete medical history and physical examination should be performed for each student-athlete.
Prevention of heat illness begins with aerobic conditioning, which provides partial acclimatization to the heat. In order to achieve heat acclimatization, student-athletes should gradually increase their exposure to hot and/or humid environmental conditions over a period of 10 to 14 days. Hydration should be maintained during training and acclimatization.
Clothing and protective gear can increase heat stress. Frequent rest periods should be scheduled so that the gear and clothing can be loosened to allow heat loss. During the acclimatization period, it may be advisable to use a minimum of protective gear and clothing and to practice in T-shirts, shorts, socks, and shoes.
To identify heat stress conditions, regular measurements of environmental conditions are recommended.
Dehydration must be avoided. Fluid replacement must be readily available. Student-athletes should be encouraged to drink as much and as frequently as comfort allows. This includes both before and after practice.
Recording the body weight of each student-athlete before and after practice(s), progressive loss of body fluids can be detected and overcome.
Some student-athletes may be more susceptible to heat illness than others, and coaches need to be aware of such situations. Susceptible individuals include those who have inadequate aerobic fitness, excess body fat, history of heat illness, poor rehydration habits, and a tendency to push themselves to capacity without proper fluid rehydration.