The end of summer vacation also signals the beginning of football season. The weather in Mississippi often reaches temperatures in the 90s and 100s. Heat illness is a serious potential health issue that all athletes, coaches, and health care team members should be of aware during sports participation.
Heat illness is one of the top 3 causes of death in athletes playing football. We can take action to decrease its risk through identification, treatment, and prevention.
The environmental risks should be assessed each day. The best way to assess the level of risks is through the Wet Bulb Globe Test or the heat index. Practice equipment and water breaks should be adjusted as appropriate for the level of risk. It also helps to gradually increase the intensity of practice so the athletes can get used to the temperature. Athletes can be monitored for potential signs of dehydration by monitoring their weight each day. The color of the athlete’s urine also gives an idea of the level of hydration. Urine should be clear to light yellow and never the color of apple juice.
In order to prevent dehydration athletes must stay appropriately hydrated. Athletes should eat well balanced meals. To stay hydrated, they should drink 16 ounces of water an hour prior to sessions. During activities they should consume 4-8 ounces of water for every 15 to 20 minutes of practice. After practice sports drinks are important to replenish lost electrolytes. Meals should be eaten one to two hours after games and practices. Carbohydrate loading is recommended for some endurance activities. Athletes should eat carbs for supper two days prior to a game.
Heat illness can present in various ways. Early signs of heat illness include chills, dark colored urine, dizziness, dry mouth, headaches, thirst and weakness. As the symptoms worsen they present with muscle cramps, nausea and tingling of the limbs. As the patient’s temperature starts to increase the athlete can experience delirium, stupor, seizures and coma. When heat illness is suspected rapid cooling is important. Remove equipment, place in a cool area and cool with cold towels. Ice baths are also appropriate. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and emergency medical services should be contacted.
For further information and guidelines:
Gabe Rulewicz, MD
Fellowship Trained in Orthopaedic Sports Medicine and Shoulder Reconstruction
Board Certified in Orthopaedic Surgery with a Certificate of added Qualification in Sports Medicine
North Mississippi Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Clinic