Common Heat-Related Illness
Preventing Heat Related IllnessMost forms of heat illness can be avoided by following basic prevention guidelines. Even so, it's essential for athletes and coaches to know the warning signs of a developing heat-related emergency and understand the level of severity of each condition. See: Heat Illness - Symptoms and Severity
Normally, our body temperature is regulated by sweating. A number of factors can limit the sweat response, including intense exercise in high temperatures or high humidity, age, obesity, fever, dehydration, illness, medications and alcohol. When an athlete develops a heat illness, it usually occurs after several hours of exertion and excessive sweating that leads, first to to dehydration, and then to electrolyte imbalances.
To prevent heat-related illness, follow these precautions:
- Drink the Right Amount of the Right Fluids
Finding the right amount of fluid to drink depends upon a variety of individual factors including the length and intensity of exercise and other individual differences. There are, however, two simple methods of estimating adequate hydration.
- Replace Lost Electrolytes
Sweat leeches salt and minerals from the body. It's important to maintain sodium and electrolyte levels if you are sweating profusely and exercising more than 90 minutes. The easiest way to replace these are with salty foods or sports drinks.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing
Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. In the hot sun, a hat and sunscreen is helpful. Wear light, loose-wicking clothing so sweat can evaporate. Better yet, invest in some clothes made with CoolMax®, Drymax®, Smartwool or polypropylene. These fibers have tiny channels that wick the moisture from your skin to the outer layer of the clothing where it can evaporate more easily.
- Use Sunscreen and Avoid Sunburn
Sunburn decreases your ability to cool yourself and causes fluid loss. Use sunblock with SPF 15 or higher. Wear a hat that provides shade and allows ventilation.
- Acclimate to the Heat
You will have a greater tolerance for exercise in the heat if you become accustomed to it slowly over one to two weeks. If traveling to a hotter climate, allow several days to acclimate before doing intense exercise. Avoid exercise during the hottest time of day; train closer to sunrise or sunset.
- Use Common Sense
Avoid hot foods, alcohol and heavy foods that increase your core temperature. If you feel any headaches, fatigue or irritability or notice your exercise performance decreasing, stop exercising and cool off.
Remember, it is easier to prevent heat illness than to treat it once symptoms develop.Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety, 2006.