Heat Safety Still a Hot Topic as Fall Sports Tryouts Begin

Heat Safety Still a Hot Topic as Fall Sports Tryouts Begin

Five things you need to know about heat-related illness and dehydration

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Boys soccer teams prepare for a game at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda

via Flickr user WJ Soccer

It has been five years since Montgomery County’s heat acclimatization guidelines—which enforce a safe progression into the rigors of fall sports during the hottest time of the year—were implemented, as required by state law.

The change in preseason protocol was sparked by the high-profile exertional heat stroke death in 2001 of Korey Stringer, a pro-bowl tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. Stringer’s body reached 108 degrees after a practice in 91-degree weather.

 In 2009 the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) released a set of guidelines to help student-athletes adjust to potentially oppressive heat at the start of the fall season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat illness during practice or competition is the leading cause of death among U.S. high school athletes. With Wednesday marking the first day of tryouts/practice for Montgomery County fall sport athletes—and 90-degree weather forecasted—county coaches agreed it is vital to players’ safety to ensure that parents and student-athletes alike are aware of and educated on the topics of heat-related illness and dehydration.

According to the Korey Stringer Institute, which is housed at the University of Connecticut, there have been no preseason deaths among high school football players in states with heat acclimatization guidelines. Aside from the regulations, it is important to remember athletes arrive to fall tryouts with varying levels of fitness, said Winston Churchill High School girls soccer coach Haroot Hakopian.

County coaches undergo extensive training and certification but they additionally benefit from working alongside their school’s assigned certified athletic trainers in creating a safe environment for student-athletes, said Walt Whitman football coach Jim Kuhn.

Here are five things you need to know about heat-related illness and dehydration:

There are several types of heat illness—heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, among others— and they range in severity.

According to the CDC, symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale and clammy skin; fast or weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; and fainting. Signs of heat stroke include high body temperature; hot, red, dry or wet skin; rapid and strong pulse; and possible unconsciousness.

Dizziness is also a common symptom and coaches urge their athletes to pay attention to the color of their urine—darker yellow is a clear sign of dehydration.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase football coach Chris Pope said it’s important for coaches to be on the lookout for lesser-known signs of a problem, such as discoloration of the eyes—red or yellow in particular—and drastic changes in breathing patterns and neurological behavior. Similar to symptoms of a concussion, student-athletes who are suffering from a heat-related illness or dehydration can also exhibit neurological symptoms, such as confusion and clumsiness.

Added Kuhn: “If you’re trying to run a play and a kid is getting confused and can’t remember anything short term, like what the count was on, you can really kind of tell something isn’t right here and they’re struggling in some way, it could be a concussion but it could also be a hydration issue. The symptoms of concussions and hydration manifest themselves similarly.”

Heat illness/dehydration can occur when it’s not scorching hot.

Heat illness is inherent to physical activity, according to NATA, and its incidence increases with rising temperature and humidity. But exertional heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature gets too high because of physical activity, according to the Korey Stringer Institute. Such a condition, as well as dehydration, can happen in any climate.

Practice is too late to start hydrating.

Frequent water breaks are required, per the heat acclimatization rules. And coaches say water is readily available to athletes whenever they need it—Kuhn said he has four water stations set up, one in each corner of the practice field—and they are encouraged to continue hydrating. But too much water during a rigorous practice can also have an adverse effect. 

“If you drink too much water on the field, all that water rustling around in your stomach, you’re probably going to throw it up,” Kuhn said.

It’s not what players do on the field, in terms of drinking water and other fluids, Kuhn said, it’s what they’ve done in the 24 hours before each practice to get their bodies ready to perform.

“If they’re already in a deficit when they get onto the field at 8 a.m., it’s going to be a tough day,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn said he keeps his office refrigerator stocked with Pedialyte. Bringing the electrolyte count back up is key in rehydrating, he said. Even though sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are high in sugar, they are also quite helpful; Kuhn said he encourages his athletes to dilute them 50 percent with water.

While athletes are not weighed in and out every practice, Hakopian , the Churchill girls soccer coach, said many of his players keep a daily log to make sure they’re not losing too much water weight; Kuhn said his players will be weighed in on Tuesday and weight fluctuations will be closely gauged.

Recognize early signs and seek treatment

The National Federation of State High School Associations said it best: First aid should not be delayed. Students should not be afraid to speak up if they aren’t feeling right, Hakopian said. It’s important to get treatment as quickly as possible to reverse the effects at the onset of a heat-related illness or dehydration. Hakopian said while he pays close attention to the classic symptoms and changes in behavior from his athletes, he also educates and asks his senior leaders to inform him of any warning signs in younger teammates.

If the condition is severe, do not administer fluids.

If a player is exhibiting signs of heat stroke, the CDC defines this as a medical emergency and recommends calling 911. In the meantime, it is important to move the athlete to a cooler environment and lower his or her temperature, whether with cool cloths or an ice bath. But do not, according to the CDC, give fluids. 

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