Weather-related illnesses and deaths are preventable
By Kim Painter
Copyright 2006 Gannett Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Douglas Casa knows something about heat stroke — and not just because he's director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut.
"I had one when I was a high school senior," Casa says. "I was in a 10K race in the middle of the summer in the middle of the day. On the very last lap, I was vying for medal position and I collapsed at 100 meters before the finish line. I got back up and collapsed at 50 meters. I woke up in the hospital."
Casa fully recovered, as do most children and teens who become overheated, exhausted or dehydrated while pursuing summer sports.
But almost every summer about this time — as the hottest weather of the year coincides with the final weeks of summer sports camps and the start of football training season — tragedies do occur. That's despite the fact that serious sports-related heat illnesses and deaths are preventable, Casa and other experts say.
"The educational process has to continue every year," says Fred Mueller, director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Mueller says football heat deaths were much more common a generation ago, before adoption of today's standard training rules, which, for example, prohibit full equipment in early practices. Still, one high school player and one college player died of heat stroke in 2005. (Professionals sometimes succumb, too, but the sheer numbers of players involved make high school players the most common victims.)
Casa has visited youth soccer and football camps to study a big factor in the overheating equation: dehydration.
In a preliminary study, he found that two-thirds of boys and girls at soccer camps were dehydrated before they even stepped onto the playing field. And most didn't drink enough during play to make up for what they were losing, which in the case of teenage boys could be as much as 1.3 liters of fluid an hour, Casa says. As a result, kids at the camps often felt sluggish.
But those who got a little extra education, including a pep talk on how better hydration can improve performance along with well-being, started drinking more, Casa says. The children also learned to recognize signs of dehydration. "We told them that if their urine looked like apple juice, they probably needed to drink more, and if it looked more like lemonade, they probably were OK," he says.
Casa's studies are financed by sports drink maker Gatorade. Casa says such drinks have some advantages, not the least of which is that children seem to drink more when they have a flavored option.
Mueller says that sports drinks are fine but can be cost-prohibitive for some teams, and that "good old cold water will do the trick." He also recommends that athletes in serious summer training eat extra salt throughout the day and get weighed morning and night to spot excess weight loss, a sign of dehydration.
Mueller says any parent sending a child — even a great big high school football player — off to a grueling hot-weather practice or game should also check with coaches and trainers and make sure that:
*Cold water is available before, during and after play and is easily accessible any time.
*Players have time to get used to the heat and exertion before starting the most intense workouts.
*Players know they can get a break if they feel ill.
*Coaches and trainers have written emergency plans, including a plan for cooling athletes who become overheated.
Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness and can result in death or permanent brain damage. It occurs when the body's cooling system fails and body temperature rises rapidly.
Although a classic sign is red, hot, dry skin, athletes who become dangerously overheated may still be sweating.
*Temperature above 104 degrees
*Rapid, strong pulse
*Dizziness or fainting
If you suspect heat stroke, call for an ambulance, move the person out of the sun and begin cooling measures such as spraying with cool water.