It’s the heat, and the humidity, and when you throw in the hard work of getting ready for a game or the show, there is potential for tragedy if care is not taken to keep people hydrated.
The sunny skies, high temperatures and oppressive humidity of an Alabama summer take their toll on anyone doing anything outside. Young athletes and band members find themselves in the midst of it, as practices heat up before it’s time to take to the field.
Heat-related problems — heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke — are real threats, and coaches need to know how to recognize, react and most importantly, to prevent those conditions.
The doctors of Northeast Orthopedics made dehydration a focus in their annual clinic for Etowah County coaches and band directors.
Athletic trainer Chris Russell said kids today don’t spend as much time outdoors in the heat as they did in earlier generations, and are not as accustomed to exertion in hot weather. “That’s one of the main reasons we see so much more heat illness now,” he said.
Young people often don’t eat and drink properly for daily life, Russell said, much less for the exertions of athletic practice.
It’s not enough to just give kids water breaks. “You’ve got to make them drink,” Russell said.
Heat-related illness can kill people. It’s important to know more about it, because it can be prevented.
According to information in Pernacity, a publication of the Korey Stringer Institute, 15 states, including Alabama, mandated practice schedules for football designed to acclimatize young people to the heat. There have been no heat-related football deaths in any of those states since then.
It was a no-cost fix; practice schedules were altered to limit time in the heat in early days, letting kids get accustomed to the heat before going full-on, in full gear.
Talk about heat issues in athletics, and Stringer’s name is sure to come up. The Minnesota Vikings’ Pro Bowler died from an exertional heat stroke in August 2001 during practice.
KSI is devoted to research, education and advocacy to maximize performance and prevent sudden death from heat-related issues and other causes for athletes, soldiers and laborers.
Since 1995, 54 football players have died from heat stroke — 42 high school players, nine college players, two professionals and one sandlot player, according to a 2014 survey of football injuries by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.
Russell said players need to drink 24 ounces of water or Gatorade or a similar drink before starting practice — and no caffeine. “Caffeine sucks the water out of you,” he said.
They then need to drink eight to 10 ounces every 15 minutes, whether they are thirsty or not. “If you are thirsty, it’s already too late,” Russell said.
It’s not uncommon for those exerting themselves in the heat to lose one to one-and-a-half liters of sweat, he said. Kids can lose seven or eight pounds, in water, during a day of practice.
Some body types are more likely to suffer heat-related issues — big kids (“your offensive linemen) and those that have low body fat, because they don’t have a lot of water in their systems.
There also are personality types that are more likely to have problems. “You’ve got kids who won’t tell you,” Russell said, that they don’t feel well. “The go-getters — they’ll try to push through it.”
Before they, their coach or band director know it, they can be in big trouble.
Russell said he dealt with a player like that last week. “This is the kid who never takes a knee, and he was taking a knee. Then he was bending over,” he said.
While these kids may think they are giving the team everything they’ve got, they aren’t.
“If a kid is dehydrated, it’s affecting his performance,” Russell said.
Heat stress is the first phase of heat-related illness, he said, marked by cramps because of low electrolytes, and possibly muscle spasms.
“That’s your muscle saying it’s out of something,” Russell said. “Get that kid to the sidelines. He needs something like Gatorade or electrolyte pills — what we used to call salt pills.”
Stretching and ice also help, he said, and the problem usually will resolve itself.
Heat exhaustion causes excessive thirst and lethargy, and comes when the core body temperature is 102 to 104 degrees. Russell said that kid needs to be gotten into air conditioning or at least shade, and have ice applied to the back of the neck, armpits and groin area. If a cold whirlpool is available, the kid should be placed into it.
“This kid is on the verge of something bad happening,” Russell said. “It’s nothing to play around with. I know we all have kids who are ‘high drama,’ but you need to take it seriously.”
Russell said he’s seen players with heat stroke twice — one in college and one in high school. “Heat stroke is when kids can die,” he said.
Symptoms include headache, vomiting and diarrhea. “That’s the body telling you something’s very wrong,” Russell said.
At this point, the body’s core temperature can be 104 degrees. “Call 911,” Russell said. “Get the kid in air-conditioning or shade,” and get clothing off and apply ice.
Coaches and trainers need to emphasize to players — or band members, cheerleaders or anyone else working out in the heat — the importance of good nutrition and proper hydration. It’s not a worry limited to athletic fields.
“Anyone outside in the heat, working in their yard or garden, needs to be properly hydrated,” Russell said.
It’s not unusual for older people to end up in the emergency room after getting dehydrated while working in a garden.
Knowing about proper hydration is the key, Russell said, and information from TSI supports that.
Heat stroke deaths averaged 2.6 per year from 2010 to 2014, down from the previous five-year period. However, in one year that recorded two dehydration deaths, there also were two deaths from over-hydration.
Source: The Gadsden Times