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Preventing serious heat-related illnesses in young athletes

Among the first students back at college in August are the football players. They practice vigorously in scorching heat, often wearing heavy protective equipment. High school players are doing the same. It’s all too easy for them to suffer heat-related illnesses including heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Some young athletes have even died from heat-related conditions.

Anyone who’s practicing or playing any sport in the heat is in danger of suffering heat-related conditions. They need to be carefully supervised by coaches and trainers who know how to prevent these conditions, spot the signs of them in a young athlete and take action immediately.

What to do to prevent problems

A doctor with Johns Hopkins Medicine says that getting slowly acclimated to the heat — increasing the time and intensity of their activity over 10 to 14 days — is the best way to avoid problems. He says that too often, athletes “get out there too quickly, do too much and are not acclimated to the weather….” He notes that even cooler, overcast days can be problematic if the humidity is high.

Everyone knows that staying hydrated during activity is crucial. However, drinking water before being active as well as after is important to preventing dehydration and maintaining a healthy body temperature.

Know the signs someone is sick from the heat

It’s imperative that coaches, trainers, parents and young athletes themselves be able to recognize the signs of heat-related illness. The initial signs can be non-specific. They include:

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Unusual behavior

The doctor’s advice for anyone who sees someone with these conditions is to “pull them out of the game or practice, ask them how they are feeling, give them some water and cool them down” with ice or cold compresses, which should be readily accessible.

Criminal and civil liability can result

Coaches can (and have been) held criminally liable. Just this month, two former high school coaches were indicted for second-degree murder by a grand jury. The case involves a 16-year-old basketball player who died after performing drills outside in 90-plus degree temperatures two years ago. According to her autopsy report, she died from “hyperthermia and rhabdomyolysis during physical exertion with high ambient temperature.”

Coaches and other school personnel can also be held civilly liable when a young athlete under their supervision suffers harm because proper protocols weren’t in place or weren’t being followed to protect them from heat-related medical conditions.