America's Healthy Summer: Avoid Heat-Related Illness in Student Athletes

Avoid heat-related illness in student athletes.

July 19, 2010 — -- The United States is in the grip of a record hot summer, and children who play outdoors sports are vulnerable to heat stroke.

Earlier this month two assistant football coaches were arrested and charged with reckless endangerment after a student athlete collapsed during training. The student had been doing weight training and running in 93-degree weather, according to reports.

Police say the coaches failed to provide the players with water.

The danger is very real. Exertional heat stroke is one of the leading causes of sudden death in sports.

Dr. Marie Savard appeared on "Good Morning America" this morning to talk about what parents, athletes and active adults can do to avoid heat exhaustion.

Prevention Better Than Treatment

You can go from heat exhaustion to potentially fatal heatstroke in a matter of minutes. Once you have to seek treatment for a heat-related problem, the situation can be very serious, Savard said. Heat stroke can be fatal.

Can Kids' Medications Pose Hot Weather Danger?

Antihistamines and antidepressants can lower a child's heat tolerance, Savard said. Prime allergy season is coming up, so many children may be taking Benadryl or Allegra. One of the side effects of those medications is a drier mouth. Those medications also affect your ability to sweat. Antihistamines such as Benadryl, Dramamine and Phenergan have anti-sweating -- or anticholinergic -- properties.

Antidepressants can also impair the ability to sweat, which is a critical function to regulating the body's temperature.

What If My Child Needs That Medication?

If your child needs to continue taking a certain prescription, you need to tell the coach about it. You don't have to share exactly what the child is taking -- particularly if it's sensitive -- but you can say he or she is taking a drug that impairs sweating ability, Savard said.

Heat-Related Fatalities on the Rise

Recent research shows that heat-related fatalities are three times what they were 20 years ago, and Savard attributes that increase in part to a cultural shift.

Today's teens and young adults are drinking more caffeine -- in the form of coffee drinks and sodas -- which dehydrates them, she said. Alcohol consumption among college-age youth also leaves them dehydrated, she said.

They may not reveal this to their coaches, so they need to be warned against it, especially if they have a really big practice the following day, she said.

Which Athletes Are at Highest Risk?

The players who wear the most clothing are most vulnerable, because sweat and heat cannot evaporate from their bodies, Savard said.

Because they stand still more than other players do, the goalie or catcher may seem to be at less risk because they're performing less exertion. But because they are covered up more, air doesn't hit their skin and their temperature can rise very quickly, Savard said.

How Can I Teach My Child to Be More Careful?

Some children are very competitive and may not want to reduce their activity for fear of looking weak in front of teammates or coaches, but that attitude has to change, Savard said.

Teach your children about the signs of heatstroke -- including headache, lack of sweat, muscle cramps, weakness, difficulty speaking or understanding and high body temperature -- and tell them to watch out for their friends.

Web-extra Tip

Parents and student athletes should make sure that their school implements an acclimatization program. This is where, over a period of 14 days, athletes gradually build up their heat tolerance.

Under such a program, students would practice the first day without a helmet or protective clothing, which interferes with sweating and heat loss.

The following tips are from guidelines set by the National Athletic Trainers' Association:

Allow two- to three-hour rest periods at meal times and make sure athletes drink proper fluids.

Athletes who are at a high risk for heat-related illness should be weighed before and after practice to determine how much body water they've lost.

Teach coaches and athletes about heat-related illness and proper hydration.

Encourage athletes to sleep at least six to eight hours a night in a cool environment.

Develop event and practice guidelines and education materials for hot, humid weather.

Check environmental conditions before and during practice or competition, and make decisions about the intensity of activity and number of rest/hydration breaks based upon the severity of the conditions.

Reduce the amount of equipment and clothing worn by the athlete in hot or humid conditions, and minimize warm-up times whenever possible.

Allow athletes to practice, or at least rest, in shaded areas.

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" website.