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Preventing heat-related illness for student-athletes

Preparing for the return of school sports can get any student-athlete excited, but during these hot summer months as the temperatures continue to rise, it’s important to be aware of heat-related illnesses. You don’t have to just be a football player doing 2-a-day outdoor workouts to be affected by heat stroke and heat-related illnesses. Anyone can be at risk. Here are some steps to help keep your student-athlete safe from the heat.

The dangers of heat-related illness

Warning signs of heat stroke and heat-related illness

  • Feeling nauseous, or feeling like you need to throw-up
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Poor concentration, unable to focus
  • Flushed skin
  • Lightheadedness, dizzy
  • Fatigue, feeling tired easily
  • Vomiting

If you develop any of these heat stroke symptoms, you must take steps to lower the body temperature and get hydrated immediately.

  1. Stop exercising right away and get out of the heat.
  2. Cool the body down by removing extra clothing or equipment.
  3. Sit in a tub of cold water or place wet towels or an ice pack on your neck, forehead and under your arms.
  4. Continue to drink fluids.
  5. If the condition gets worse or you do not start to feel better, seek medical attention or speak with your health care provider.

Ways to prevent heat-related illnesses

Student-athletes can follow a few steps to help ensure they are healthy and prepared for exercise outdoors.

Exercise when it’s coolest

  • Avoid the midday sun by exercising before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m., if possible. The sun is hottest midday, so try to choose a cooler time of day.
  • Exercise in shady areas which have cooler temperatures and more protection from the sun.
  • When exercising in high heat and humidity, rest 10 minutes for every hour. This will help the body to cool down and not overheat.
  • If possible, try to get used to exercising in warmer temperatures before having a full-out practice or activity. Opting for shorter sessions at first, or lower intensity until your student-athlete is acclimated to the temperatures, then increasing.

Dress for the sun

  • Avoid thick material clothing. Instead, wear lightweight and breathable clothing.
  • Avoid dark-colored clothing like black, brown, dark grey.
  • Change any wet clothing often.
  • Wear sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Sunscreen is needed for all skin types to prevent a sunburn. A sunburn can make it harder for your body to cool itself. Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every 2 hours.

Keep hydrated

  • Do not start exercise and physical activity dehydrated. Drink water every day and maintain a healthy hydration level to help prepare for the next activity.
  • Send water or a refillable water bottle with your student-athlete to practice so they may stay hydrated.
  • A recovery drink, like chocolate milk, may be needed within 30 minutes of a tough exercise. Chocolate milk is a great choice of drink post-workout with excellent ration of fats and sugars.

When exercising outside, take note of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and know how to recognize them. During a workout, it can be easy to mistake the signs of heat stroke for a tough exercise, so it is important to be on the lookout for them. If you suspect a case of heat stroke or any kind of heat illness, get to a cool place as soon as possible and call 9-1-1.


Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery

Medical Director, Sports Medicine Center; Program Director, Pediatric Sports Medicine Fellowship; Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Kansas School of Medicine