Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Children's Hospital Logo
Connect With Us:

Monroe Carell Jr.
Children's Hospital
at Vanderbilt
2200 Children's Way
Nashville, TN 37232

(615) 936-1000

Children's Hospital Logo
Home / News and Events / Health Tips / Heat Index reaches danger zone for young athletes
Printer friendly version of this page  E-mail someone a link to this pageBookmark and Share  Open RSS Feed
Heat Index reaches danger zone for young athletes

Reviewed By: Andrew Gregory, M.D., Pediatric Orthopedics (Last Updated: August 5, 2010)

Andrew Gregory, M.D., assistant professor of Orthopedics and Pediatrics says the late-summer sports season is the most dangerous time for heatstroke, and football is the sport where the risk is the highest. When the body’s core temperature reaches a critical level, the body can literally begin to cook.

“If the core temperature stays high, organs begin to be damaged and if untreated, heatstroke leads to multiple organ failure and death,” Gregory said.

Because he serves on the Youth, Sports, Health committee for the American College of Sports medicine as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Sports Medicine, Gregory speaks at national events, advising coaches to adopt a basic safety plan that includes cancelling outdoor practices when the heat index reaches 104.

“What many people don’t realize is the heat index can quickly get that high even when temperatures are in the 80’s because of high humidity. A higher humidity means that the body’s sole mechanism of cooling itself—evaporation of sweat—no longer works,” Gregory said.

Gregory says this means even being careful to drink plenty of fluids cannot fully protect athletes. Coaches need to take into account that it takes most people one-and-a-half to two weeks to acclimate to the heat if they’ve been spending most of their summer inside in the air conditioning. Caution should be taken to reduce the length and intensity of exercise during a heatwave, as well as lightening up on the clothing requirements.

“In College football, they do not wear full uniform and pads until at least day five to allow athletes to acclimate to the heat during exercise. They also refrain from two-a-day practices for the first two weeks.That would be a good plan for high school and youth sports teams to adopt,” Gregory said.

If a coach or other observer notices a change in the behavior in an athlete and heat is suspected to be the cause, it is important to be prepared with an ice bath and a way to determine a core body temperature.

“Taking an athlete’s temperature in their ear, mouth, or forehead is not enough. They may be cool on the outside, but hot in the core of their bodies. Unfortunately the only way to determine body core temperature is a rectal thermometer. If it indicates a core temperature above 102, that athlete needs to be cooled immediately, even before EMS arrives, with an ice bath. Organ damage begins to occur at a core temperate of 104,” Gregory said.

If the outdoor heat index is under 104 and practices are scheduled, proper hydration is a major tool to keep children and young athletes safe in the heat. During an extended heat wave it is likely many children are chronically under-hydrated.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children are often unable to recognize the warning signs of heat illness, so adults need to be vigilant.

Key symptoms of heat stress

  • Complaints of a headache
  • Feeling tired or acting confused or combative
  • Decreasing bathroom breaks/darker urine
  • Nausea
  • Unsteadiness or dizziness

Encouraging children to drink frequently during regular outdoor activities is crucial. The AAP recommends cold tap water every 20 minutes in order to stay well hydrated.

Along with hydration, other precautions to prevent heat-related illness include:

  • Avoid intense outdoor activity from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the hottest part of the day.
  • Rest frequently in the shade.
  • Wear light-colored and lightweight clothing.
  • Cover up. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen of 15 SPFor greater.
  • Drink, even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Stay indoors during extreme heat, using fans and air conditioning to cool the air.
  • Never leave children alone in closed vehicles, even for a short time.

<< Back to health tips main page

Additional sites rich with information and resources on a variety of health conditions and tips include:

Health & Wellness Library

Growing up Healthy

Valued Participant of Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network