Heat-Related Illnesses

by Anita Nolan | Last updated

During hot, humid soccer tournaments, heat stroke or heat exhaustion is always a possibility.

Heat-related illnesses occur when the body can’t stay cool. The human body normally cools itself by the evaporation of sweat. But on hot, humid days, sweat evaporates more slowly due to the moisture in the air. When the body can’t stay cool, its temperature rises, and heat-related illness can occur.

One way to determine the risk of heat-related illnesses is… to check the heat index, a measure of how hot it feels outside in the shade. It isn’t the same as the outside temperature. The heat index measures how hot it feels when relative humidity is combined with the effects of the air temperature. When you are standing in full sunshine, the heat index is higher. A heat index of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is dangerous.

Heat-related problems typically take three forms.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are muscle contractions, often strong and painful, in the hamstring muscles and back of calves. These cramps seem to be caused by heat, dehydration, and poor conditioning.

Symptoms of Heat Cramps

Muscle spasms

Knotting muscles and muscle pain

Excessive sweat loss

Excessive saltiness of sweat over the skin or visible dried salt on the skin

Excessive dehydration

Treatment of Heat Cramps

Drink fluids with electrolytes, like a sports drink

Stretch and massage cramped muscles

Rest in a cool, shaded area

Apply ice to cramp

Intake of sodium-rich foods such as pretzels or popcorn or potassium-rich foods such as bananas may help

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is more than just exhaustion; excessive heat and dehydration are complicating factors. As an athlete becomes dehydrated, the likelihood of heat exhaustion can increase. Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Paleness

Heavy sweating

Feeling weak or confused

Dizziness

Nausea, vomiting

Headache

Rapid Heartbeat

Fainting

Dark-colored urine (symptom of dehydration)

Moderate increase in body temperature (101-102°F)

In the case of heat exhaustion, the elevated body temperature isn’t a fever created by the body, but instead is caused by the heat.

Treatment of Heat Exhaustion

Rest in a cool, shaded place

Hydrate, particularly with a sports drink that contains electrolytes

Lie down with legs elevated to promote circulation

Use ice packs (plastic bags filed with ice or frozen gel packs) wet towels or washcloths, or take a cool shower or bath.

Remove tight or unnecessary clothing.

If the affected person doesn’t start feeling better quickly after the measures listed above are taken, assume heat stroke and seek medical attention.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat illness. It is a serious condition that can result in death if it isn’t recognized and treated promptly. Critical organs can be damaged if they remain overheated for an extended period.

Heat stroke can even occur in non-exercising people (parents on the sidelines) if the temperature is high enough. Symptoms for non-exercising victims of heat stroke is warm, flushed skin and they do not sweat. (Athletes might still be sweating with heat stroke.)

Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Exercising Athletes

 

(Seek Immediate Medical Attention if Player Exhibits the Following Warning Signs)

Very high core body temperature (106° F or higher)

Confusion, Altered mental status, extreme lethargy

Collapse/passing out during intense exercise in the heat.

Seizures

Skin feels hot, dry, but not sweaty

Vomits frequently

Shortness of breath or trouble breathing.

Treatment of Heat Stroke

Seek Medical attention immediately. A player with suspected heat stroke should be taken to the hospital.

In addition, the player should be cooled by whatever means possible. An ice bath is preferable due to the speed with which it cools the body, but other options are to put ice packs over as much of the body as possible, take a cool shower, wrap the person in cool, wet towels, or spray them with water.

Fluids should not be given, since a player with heat stroke will often be nauseated.

Heat Stroke Facts

Anyone suffering from any form of heat exhaustion should not drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol, which can actually make the heat exhaustion or heat stroke worse.

Some medications affect the way the body reacts to heat and can put players at greater risk for heatstroke. Allergy medication is the most common one that might affect young soccer players, although beta-blockers and vasoconstrictors, diet pills, laxatives, antidepressants and diuretics are some of the other medications that can make someone more susceptible to heat stroke.

Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses

 

If the heat index is high, stay in air-conditioned or shaded areas when possible.

Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Bring a canopy so players are in the shade when not in the game and for the team to gather under during half-time or between games.

Parents can protect themselves with a hat or umbrella.

Use sunscreen.

Drink plenty of water in the days leading up to the game or tournament.

Drink extra fluids all game day.

Drink a sports drink between games at tournaments.

Don’t drink caffeinated beverages.

Take a spray bottle filled with cold water to spray on players when they come out of game.

Take a wet wash cloth or gel pack in a cooler to wipe face or place on the back of player’s neck when out of the game.

If you should get heat exhaustion or heat stroke, you will be more sensitive to heat for about a week afterwards. Be careful not to exercise too hard and avoid hot weather. Obey your doctor’s instructions.

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