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Record heat poses dangers to athletes

Record heat poses dangers to athletes
While football players in La Vernia hit the water, members of the high school band can be seen in the background. Most members of the band were wearing CamelBaks or other hydration bladders filled with water and sports drinks.

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Wilson County News
August 9, 2011
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‘Most heat-related illnesses occur within the first few days of working out outside, because the body isn’t used to the heat.’
-- Tom Monagan

With current temperatures dwelling in triple digits, the fears and concerns over heat-related illnesses are very real here in South Texas. And now that the area’s athletes are back at work, it’s time for everyone to think about ways to beat the heat.

It has been said that the four leading causes of heat-related emergencies are heat and high humidity, extreme physical exertion, layered or rubberized clothing, and inadequate fluid intake. These factors can lead to dehydration and other illnesses if not closely monitored.

There are many signs and symptoms of dehydration, and the most common include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness, lightheadedness, fainting, loss of coordination, poor concentration, and flushed skin.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. This happens at different rates for different people, but in the end, no one is immune. If the symptoms are overlooked, and dehydration is not treated in time, it can lead to severe medical problems, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms that often occur in the abdominal area, arms, or legs. If heat cramps begin, you should stop all activity and find a cool place to sit down. Drinking water or sports beverages should help. Athletes should receive clearance from trainers before resuming strenuous activities.

If untreated, dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion. This occurs when a person experiences an increase in core body temperature. Symptoms may include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, a lack of perspiration, and rising body temperature. If you have stopped sweating, things are getting bad. If not treated, heat exhaustion, which is a serious medical condition requiring immediate attention, could lead to heat stroke.

When the body loses its ability to control and regulate temperature, heat stroke has occurred. Heat stroke is often life-threatening, and immediate medical attention is required.

While it remains important to understand and recognize the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, prevention is obviously the best route to follow.

The most obvious action needed to avoid dehydration is to consume extra fluids before, during, and after outdoor activities. Water and sports drinks are generally considered the best fluids, but doctors, dietitians, coaches, and trainers may have other good suggestions. Wearing sunscreen, a hat when possible, and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing are also good ideas.

Tom Monagan, the associate athletic director at the University of Texas at Dallas, said he recommends athletes start slowly and acclimate themselves to the heat.

“Most heat-related illnesses occur within the first few days of working out outside, because the body isn’t used to the heat,” he said.

Monagan offers the following tips for acclimating and staying safe in extreme heat:

•Drink on a schedule -- every 15-20 minutes or so. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. By then, you’re already dehydrated.

•Maintain a well-balanced diet. Avoid caffeine and replace the sodium, potassium, and carbohydrates you lose when working out and sweating.

•Wear breathable clothing that allows sweat to evaporate off the body, and avoid wearing dark clothing -- it attracts the heat.

•Pay attention to the color of your urine. It will help you know if you’re dehydrated. Urine should appear light yellow, similar to the color of lemonade. Dark urine, like the color of cider, indicates dehydration.

While concern for athletes is always high, they are not the only ones at risk of heat-related illness. Floresville trainer Coach Billy Marshall said everyone needs to be aware of the dangers.

“The biggest concern is not the people who work in the heat daily -- it is the person who sits at a desk or works in the A/C all day, then comes home and does yard work or spends time outside in the heat,” Marshall said. “Athletes that begin outdoor activities are required to have a four-day period to acclimatize to the heat and weather. This is really a good amount of time for this to take effect. The biggest issue they face is re-hydration daily following practices. Daily weight-in and weight-outs are extremely helpful in preventing heat-related issues for athletes.”

According to Dr. Steven Scheppler at Connally Memorial Medical Center, the hospital is seeing on average one person per day with symptoms of heat exhaustion. The patients’ chief complaints have been dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, with a history of being exposed to the heat.

For more information on heat-related dangers, speak to your coach, trainer, or doctor; or contact the American Red Cross at 210-224-5151 or visit

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