August heat renews concern for area athletes
Members of the Floresville Tiger varsity football team take a much-needed water break during the first morning of two-a-days. Staying hydrated and becoming acclimated to the heat over time are major keys to avoiding heat-related illness.
As we enter August, and the temperature continues to dwell in triple digits, fears and concerns over heat-related illnesses are very real and quite justified. Area athletes are now back at work, and it seems the perfect time for a reminder 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, flushed skin, muscle cramps, fast breathing, elevated heart rate, and seizures. 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 its 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.
“If you are thirsty, it is too late,” said Coach Billy Marshall of Floresville High School.
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.
“My biggest advice is acclimatization,” Marshall added.
In addition to Marshall, many other experts recommend athletes start slowly and acclimate themselves to the heat. Athletes and those working or playing outside should consider 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.
“The best way to avoid heat-related illnesses are to prevent them,” said Mandi Sralla, the director of emergency services at Connally Memorial Medical Center. “If you must be outside for extended amounts of time, try to do so in the early morning or late evening hours.
“Hydrating well before and during outdoor activities is very important,” Sralla continued. “Try to alternate between sports drinks and water in order to keep up with the loss of important electrolytes, such as sodium, through sweating. Also, remember to take short breaks every 15-30 minutes in the shade to rehydrate and cool off.”
If the preventative measures aren’t enough to keep a person from getting too hot, immediate action should be taken.
“Heat-related illnesses can be deadly; they are among the leading causes of death in young athletes,” said Dr. Leila Peterson, a family practitioner with Connally Memorial. Dealing with symptoms when they occur calls for prompt and serious recovery measures.
“Cool your body down right away to prevent further symptoms by moving into the shade or enter into an air-conditioned building,” Peterson said. “Drink water or a sports drink, take off any extra clothing you are wearing, put a cold pack on your neck or spray yourself with cool water, and sit in front of a fan. Especially during these warm summer months, persons of all ages need to pay attention to overheating possibilities.”
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 http://www.redcross.org.