Know the Warning Signs for Heat Stroke

Know the Warning Signs for Heat Stroke

By Trevor Stubbs, MD

(September 2020) With the normal summer sports routines affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, our children are more at risk for injuries during this upcoming season. Chances are your young athlete had few practices or team activities, so will be returning to the field with less flexibility, strength, and conditioning than they’ve enjoyed in the past.  Unfortunately, parents and coaches are likely to see more injuries like pulled hamstrings or ankle sprains. But they may face even greater health risks – from the thermometer. Heat stroke can be a nearly year-round challenge here in the deep South.

What Kinds of Heat-Related Illnesses are There?

Heat-related illnesses are a spectrum of diseases including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Most seen in football players, these symptoms are more likely to occur during practice as opposed to a game. Here on the Eastern Shore, temps are still in the upper 80’s, with humidity that compounds the misery. Heat and humidity are prime risk factors along with obesity, poor hydration, and concurrent infection.

How Do I Know if the Heat is Dangerous?

The symptoms of heat-related illnesses can vary. Heat cramps are painful contractions because of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. syncope is A temporary loss of consciousness while exercising is caused by heat syncope. Heat exhaustion, the most common of the heat-related illnesses, results in profuse sweating with nausea and vomiting. The most severe of these is heat stroke, a medical emergency that happens once the body’s thermoregulatory mechanisms have failed. These patients are often confused, have a fast heart rate, and are no longer sweating. 

What Are the Best Ways to Beat the Heat?

Knowing the signs is essential to prevent progression of a heat-related illness toward long term complications or even death. Treatments include:

  • stopping the activity
  • moving to a cool and shaded environment
  • rehydrating with water or an electrolyte-containing drink
  • cooling measures such as ice packs, submersion baths, or by spraying water on the skin and using a fan to promote evaporation

If nausea and vomiting make rehydration difficult, the patient may need medical attention for IV fluids.

As distancing guidelines continue, preseason training may be limited and makes an eye toward heat-related illness even more essential.  Look for shade, avoid exercise in the heat of the day and build up intensity gradually with periods of rest.     

We all look forward to sports – and some semblance of normal – this fall! Let’s be vigilant toward the impact of heat on our young athletes. And if sprains or strains are slowing them down – we’re here to help.,and%20after%20activity%20as%20well.

Dr. Stubbs received his MD from Louisiana State University in New Orleans, followed by residency in Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is Board Certified and Fellowship Trained in Sports Medicine with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He specializes in arthroscopic procedures of the shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, and ankle as well as cartilage restoration.