Learn the warning signs and prevention of three heat-related conditions to keep you and your family safe this summer.

Could it be heat illness?

Woman Running Hot Tired

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 prevention of three heat- related conditions.

Heat Cramps


  • Dehydration
  • Sweating
  • Loss of electrolytes


  • Drink half water and half sports drink
  • Drink products like Pedialyte to help rehydrate
  • Gently stretch applied to involved muscles
  • Rest
  • Provide observation

Heat Exhaustion


  • Prolonged overexertion
  • Insufficient water and electrolyte replacement


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


  • 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

Note:  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
  • Unconscious
  • Markedly increased body temperature
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Athlete disoriented
  • Reddish colored skin


  • Seek medical assistance, activate EMS
  • Reduce athlete’s body temperature ASAP
  • 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 1 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.
  • 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


About the Author

Scott Allyn earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Health and Exercise Science from Wake Forest University in 2000 and his Masters of Education in Athletic Training from Old Dominion University in 2003.  In the past, Scott has served as the Assistant Athletic Trainer for the Salina Rattlers of the International Basketball Association as well as the Head Athletic Trainer for the Peninsula Pilots baseball team of the Coastal Plains league.  Scott is currently the Athletic Training Coordinator for Sentara Healthcare on the Peninsula and manages two Sentara Therapy Centers in Hampton and Newport News. In his spare time, Scott enjoys exercising, music, camping, and movies. He is an assistant instructor in Gracie Jiu Jitsu at Bushin Martial Arts Academy in Williamsburg, Va.