The heat of summer also brings treacherous outdoor high school football workouts in temperatures with heat indexes into the 100s. Heat related-illnesses are becoming far too common at football clinics and camps, and this reminds us that the potential for heat stroke is real and is a real threat to the health of your child. In a recent study, the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research found that since 1995, a total of 51 football players have died due to heat stroke, with 40 of them people high school student-athletes. This is alarming.

Somehow, the word about the dangers of heat-related deaths doesn't appear to be getting around, or people aren't paying attention to the facts. In Kentucky, six players at one high school were all hospitalized with symptoms of heat exhaustion stemming from one football practice. And, in Oregon, nearly the entire football team ended up being taken to a local hospital because they were suffering from rhabdomyolysis, which is a medical condition where dehydration and heat will cause muscle tissue to break down.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that heat waves now claim more lives on an annual basis then do earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods all combined. On average, there are 350 individuals whose lives are lost to heat-related illnesses.

Heat strokes particularly happen during the summer months. Here are four steps that will help keep your student-athlete safer:

  1. Understand how high temperatures affect the body
    Heat-related illnesses happen when the body can't keep itself cool. As temperatures rise, your body tries to cool down by sweating. When you don’t drink enough liquid to support all that sweating, the result is rapid dehydration. Humidity makes things worse: When there's moisture in the air, sweat doesn't evaporate as efficiently. Staying hydrated is essential for preventing heat stroke.
  1. Understand what your child’s risk factors are for a heat stroke
    Some individuals are at higher risk to experience distress in heat. Respiratory infections, and thyroid disease can make individuals higher risk for heat-related illnesses.
  1. Watch for signs of trouble
    These are advanced signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke:
  • Weakness and muscle cramps
  • Urine is dark (a sign of dehydration)
  • Fast heartbeat/pulse
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Low-grade fever
  • Skin is hot and dry, but not sweating
  • High temperature
  • Dizzy
  • Disoriented or mentally confused
  • Loss of consciousness

Be sure that you share all of these warning signs with your student-athlete. Also, let them know that playing it safe is not a sign of weakness. 

  1. Stay cool by doing these things
    As you workout or exercise outdoors, remember these rules:
  • Drink water often, even if you don't think that you are thirsty
  • Check to see of your urine is dark in color or if you are unable to urinate much. If either of these is the case, drink water.
  • Do NOT drink liquids that contain lots of sugar or caffeine. (They will dehydrate you.)
  • When you sweat you will lose sodium and minerals. Replace them by drinking fluids that add electrolytes, and eating salty foods.
  • Always wear light-colored, loose, breathable apparel. Avoid synthetic fabrics with trap the heat and can cause you to overheat.
  • If you have to wear equipment or clothing that traps heat, be sure to take it off when you have breaks
  • Never start out doing a strenuous exercise or workout. Begin slowly and gradually increase your intensity.
  • Have a spray bottle with you so that you can mist your skin with cold water when needed.
  • Keep in mind that with a sunburn that your body will not be able to release heat nearly as well as without a sunburn.