Heat Illness Information for Athletes | Sentara Sports Medicine
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Heat Illness 

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Heat illness happens when your body becomes overheated and is not able to cool itself. Water is the key to the body’s cooling system. Sweat, produced on the skin, evaporates and cools the body down. In an ideal world, this happens very quickly.

Factors like outdoor temperatures, humidity and exertion can all work against an athlete. For example, when temperatures and humidity are high, an athlete can become overheated doing a normal routine. In high humidity, sweat is slow to evaporate, and the cooling process can take longer. Below are signs and preventions of three heat- related conditions.

Heat Cramps 

Loss of electrolytes

Drink half water and half sports drink
Drink products like Gatorade® to help rehydrate
Gently stretch applied to involved muscles
Provide observation 

Heat Exhaustion

Prolonged overexertion
Insufficient water and electrolyte replacement

Profuse sweating
Cool, clammy skin
Normal body temperature
Rapid, weak pulse
Pale skin

Remove from hot environment, find a cool place
Remove excess equipment and clothing
Have athlete to drink cool fluids
If athlete does not improve rapidly, transport to medical facility for further observation

Athlete SHOULD NOT return to competition

Heat Stroke (Medical Emergency)

Heat stroke is a life threatening medical emergency.

Emergency Medical Services should be contacted immediately.

No sweating
Rapid, strong pulse
Markedly increased body temperature
Hot, dry skin
Athlete disoriented
Reddish colored skin 

Seek medical assistance, activate EMS
Reduce athlete’s body temperature as soon as possible
Place ice or cold towels on body, specifically under armpits and in groin area
Poor cold water over athlete
Direct fans towards athlete

Prevention of Heat Illnesses  

Athletes should acclimate themselves to hot weather by gradually increasing their participation over a period of two weeks.  This is probably the most important method of avoiding heat illnesses.  Rest periods of 15-30 minutes should be scheduled during activity in hot weather that last greater than one hour.

Clothing should be light in color and fabric, loose enough to permit heat to escape and permeable to moisture to allow heat loss through sweat evaporation.

Drink plenty of extra fluids such as sports drinks and water (preferably mixed) during activity in hot weather.  DO NOT drink beverages with caffeine or herbal stimulants when participating in activities in hot weather.

Susceptible athletes should be identified.  Athletes with increased muscle mass, obese, or with a history of heat problems are particularly prone to heat illness.

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