Dr. Joanne Baird
We’re well into summer break for kiddos and that means some of the hottest temps of the year. Life on the beautiful Gulf Coast has us outdoors on the beach, at the pool, and still full steam in summer sports. And steam is the key word! Heat and humidity can lead to serious illness. Make sure you’re aware of the causes of heat injury, stay cool and hydrated, know the signs and how to treat someone in distress.
Heat Injury Causes:
Our body cools us during exercise by sweating, but as we perspire, we lose necessary body fluids, resulting in dehydration. When we are dehydrated it is more difficult to sweat and cool down our body temperature.
- Environment: High humidity over 60%, (every summer day here) makes sweat evaporation difficult, preventing our bodies from cooling themselves effectively.
- Clothing: Dark colored clothing absorbs heat, increasing our core body temperature.
- Fitness level/acclimatization: Our bodies need time to adjust to warmer conditions. Gradually move into summer workouts. This is particularly important for coaches when planning preseason workouts or for anyone beginning a new exercise regimen.
- Age: Children adjust much more slowly to high temperatures than adults and are more at risk of heat illness.
- Dehydration: Even mild dehydration can impact your performance and prevent your body from cooling itself naturally through sweat.
- High body fat: Athletes with higher body fat have more difficulty cooling themselves.
- Meals: Avoid exercise immediately after eating, especially a high protein/high fat meal. Your body requires energy to digest food, increasing body temperature and decreasing the ability to cool yourself.
Heat Illness Prevention: Take time to adapt to temperatures and humidity gradually, working up to more intense and longer duration work outs. Schedule your exercise for cooler times of the day. Watch for excessive heat warnings, poor air quality alerts, and if possible, take a rest during days of highest humidity. Choose light, sweat-wicking athletic wear and avoid full equipment on days when conditions are most extreme. Grab a hat and sunglasses with UV protection. Don’t forget sunscreen – your body has a tougher time cooling itself if it’s sunburned. Stay hydrated before, during and after exercise. Fluid replacement is essential in preventing heat-related illness.
Fluid Replacement Guidelines:
- 24 oz non-caffeinated fluid 2 hours before exercise
- Additional 8 oz of water/sports drink just before work out
- 8 oz of water every 20 minutes even if not thirsty
Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you replace, and even mild dehydration can put you at risk for heat-related injury and illness. Watch your urine color as a guide for hydration status. Avoid caffeine and ultra energy drinks, as well as serious weight loss regimens.
Signs of mild dehydration:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Dry, cool skin
- Muscle cramps
- Dark urine
Signs of moderate to severe dehydration:
- Very dark urine or not urinating
- Dry-shriveled skin
- Irritability or confusion
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Breathing rapidly
- Fatigue or listlessness
Heat injury ranges from Heat Cramps in stomach, arms, or leg muscles – as most any football player or young athlete has experienced in pre-season workouts. Moderate Heat Syncope or Heat Exhaustion can result from water or salt depletion. Stretching, hydrating with electrolyte-infused water, removing tight clothing, and cooling off with a fan and shade are all helpful in reducing symptoms. Heat Stroke is a severe form of heat injury and a medical emergency. Call 911 and apply an immersion ice bath until emergency personnel arrive.
Navigating heat is part of life nearly all year long on the coast – keep your family cool and healthy out there!