Heat illness is a spectrum of illness caused by over-exertion in moderate to high temperatures and humidity. The three most common types of heat injury are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of each injury when your child is participating in sports.
Early signs of dehydration may include thirst, dry or sticky mouth, headache, muscle cramping, irritability, extreme fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and decreased performance.
Heat cramps are caused by muscle cramping secondary to prolonged exercise in the heat and dehydration from increased perspiration and decreased fluid intake.
Early signs of heat exhaustion may include nausea, feeling faint or dizzy, rapid and weak heartbeat, heavy sweating, cramps, headache, fatigue and cool or hot, moist and pale skin.
Signs of a heat stroke include all of the above symptoms of heat exhaustion, with the addition of very high body temperature, mental status change and increased amounts of sweating in an athlete.
Prevent heat illness
- Drink plenty of fluids. This is the most important way to prevent heat injury.
- It is harder for the body to control heat when temperatures are higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Parents and coaches must know when to decrease or stop practices or games during periods of excessive heat. Instead, try moving practices and games indoors during warm days.
- Clothing worn during practices and games should be light weight and expose as much of the skin as possible for evaporation of sweat, without compromising your child's safety.
- Make sure that your child is slowly acclimated to hot, humid weather by starting with light practices and gradually increasing intensity the first 1 to 2 weeks of practice in hot, humid conditions.
- Anyone with an illness (like a cold or flu) should avoid exercising in hot, humid weather until the illness is gone. Children with chronic conditions should consult their physicians before playing sports in these conditions. Obesity can also play a big role in heat illness.
- Anyone with a history of heat injury may be at an increased risk for repeated injury and should pay extra attention to proper hydration, rest and (taking time to gradually adapt to new temperatures, climates, equipment use and practice time).
Basic first aid for heat illness
- Move the athlete to a shaded area or an air conditioned room, if available.
- Remove equipment and any unnecessary clothing.
- Lay athlete on their back with their legs elevated.
- Massage ice water soaked towels on the athlete's head and legs.
- Place ice packs to the neck, arm pits and groin. If available, an ice water bath is the fastest way to cool an athlete with exertional heat illness.
- Have the athlete drink fluids if they are able to swallow safely.
- Activate your emergency action plan, call 911.
© 2015 Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt