Summer Safety Series: Heat Illness

The team at Parkview Sports Medicine cautions serious athletes, weekend warriors and those simply at play, to keep safety in mind this summer.

As the heat and humidity rise, so do your risks for potential heat illness. Some of these hazards include heat rash, heat cramps, exertional heat exhaustion and exertional heatstroke, especially when participating in physical activity. It’s especially important that the elderly, young athletes, and those with sickle cell trait take extra precautions and monitor their symptoms carefully, as they are at increased risk.

While heat illnesses can be very serious, they are preventable if you know the signs and symptoms as well as steps you can take to avoid a dangerous situation. One key component for prevention is proper hydration before, during, and after activity. An easy way to stay hydrated is to remember that you should consume 200-300 milliliters of fluid every 15 minutes. Dehydration begins when fluids lost are less than 2% of normal body weight. Signs and symptoms of dehydration may include thirst, dry mouth, headache, dizziness, irritability, lethargy, excessive fatigue and cramping. When rehydrating, the fluid intake should be equal to the fluid loss. This can be done by monitoring the color of urine, which should be light yellow in color. Research has also shown that while water is a good thirst quencher sports drinks are more effective for replenishing fluid loss.

Common Heat Illnesses

Heat Rash: Also known as “prickly heat,” it’s associated with a red, raised rash accompanied by sensations of prickling and tingling during sweating. Heat rash usually occurs when the skin is continually wet with sweat and covered with clothing. Toweling and drying the skin can help with prevention.

Heat Cramps: Extremely painful muscle spasms. While they can occur in any muscle, they most commonly occur in the abdomen and calves. Heat cramps are due to an excessive loss of water and electrolytes, such as during profuse sweating. Treatment for this illness includes ingesting large amounts of fluid, mild stretching and icing the affected muscles.

Exertional Heat Exhaustion: Occurs when the body becomes dehydrated to the point that it is unable to sustain adequate cardiac output. Symptoms include excessive thirst, dry tongue and mouth, weight loss, fatigue, weakness, incoordination, mental dullness, low urine production and elevated body temperature. It can also present as pale skin, profuse sweating, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, persistent muscle cramping or dizziness. Should you suspect this illness, cease activity immediately, rest lying down with legs elevated in a cool place, replace fluids, sponge body down with cool water and monitor body temperature. If you don’t see rapid improvement, go to the nearest emergency room. Untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.

Exertional Heatstroke: A serious, life-threatening emergency. Heatstroke is the most severe form of heat illness, induced by strenuous physical activity and heat stress. It takes only 30 minutes for cell damage to occur with a core body temperature of 105 degrees. Exertional heat stroke is one of the top three killers of athletes and soldiers in training. It takes 7-14 days for a body to adapt to exercising in heat. In the event of exertional heatstroke, there will be an abrupt onset of central nervous system abnormalities, including headache, altered consciousness, seizures, confusion, emotional instability, decreased mental acuity, vertigo, fatigue, flushed hot skin, decreased or ceased sweat production, rapidly increasing heart rate and respirations, vomiting, and a rapid rise in body temperature. Failure to treat promptly can result in permanent brain damage and potentially death. Call 9-1-1, as immediate treatment is imperative. Aggressive whole body cooling is also recommended. The athlete should be moved to a cool environment. Remove clothing and immerse them in a cold water bath (35-58 degrees Fahrenheit). Do not transport until their body temperature has been lowered. It is also important to note that people recovering from exertional heatstroke should avoid exercise and only begin to gradually return to full activity after receiving clearance from a physician.

Observe these practices and you can enjoy a safe, sporty summer no matter how high the temperatures climb.

Sources:
NATA July 2015 and Principles of Athletic Training - W.E. Prentice.

 

 

 

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