High school athletes across the state have spent the summer
preparing for rigorous preseason workouts. Most healthy children and
adolescents can safely participate in outdoor sports and other
physical activities in whatever weather summer throws their way. But
as the temperature rises, so does the risk for heat stress from
over-exertion, as well as other heat-related illnesses.
Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to cool itself by
sweating. Several heat-induced illnesses such as heat cramps, heat
exhaustion and the more severe heat stroke can occur.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), heat stress
is usually caused by known risk factors, in addition to hot and
humid weather, including:
• Poor preparation. This includes not being acclimated to
the heat; not getting enough prehydration (hydration before
exercise); not getting enough sleep and rest before practice; and
being physically out of shape;
• Insufficient access to fluids;
• Being overweight or obese;
• Medications that might decrease exercise heat tolerance
(such as ADHD medications);
• Recent illness, such as stomach flu or any illness with a
• Clothing/uniform that retains too much heat;
• Excessive physical exertion without enough rest between
intense workout sessions.
Knowing the signs of dehydration can help coaches, parents and
athletes avoid more serious heat-related illnesses. If your child
tires easily and repeatedly during practices and appears
irritable, or his/her performance suddenly declines, dehydration
and/or inadequate calorie intake may be the cause.
Look for these other signs of dehydration:
• Fatigue or weakness;
• Urine that is bright yellow in color (urine should be
• Apathy or lack of energy;
• Trouble concentrating;
The following are signs of severe dehydration:
• Dry lips and tongue;
• Sunken eyes;
• Brightly colored or dark urine, or urine with a strong
• Infrequent urination;
• Small volume of urine.
The AAP recommends the following for parents, coaches, trainers
and athletes to minimize the potential for heat-related illnesses:
• Provide and promote drinks, both before and after an
activity, to prevent dehydration;
• Allow athletes enough time to adjust to the heat and
intensity of workouts;
• Modify physical activity when it’s too hot;
• Limit an athlete’s participation if he/she was recently
sick, especially with fever, diarrhea or vomiting;
• Monitor athletes for signs of heat illness and be prepared
to treat athletes affected by the heat – by calling for emergency
services and rapidly cooling victims of moderate or severe heat
Proper nourishment is also essential for peak athletic
performance. For more on good nutrition for athletes, check
Colorado State University Extension’s fact sheet.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association has
Heat Index Procedures, which you can review at the NYSPHSAA website.
And remember, if you are concerned about a particular team’s
practices, talk to your district’s athletic director. Safety
should always be the priority.
The National Athletic Trainers Association has developed heat
acclimatization guidelines. According to NATA, “The goal of the
acclimatization period is to enhance exercise heat tolerance and
the ability to exercise safely and effectively in warm to hot
conditions.” Although New York is not among the states who have
adopted the guidelines, you can read more about them at the National Center for Biotechnology Information website.
Read more about dehydration signs and symptoms.
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