Heat Illness and High School Athletes
High school athletes lose more
than 9,000 days of athletic activity a year as a result of heat-related illness, according to report from the Center
for Disease Control and Prevention. These illnesses most often strike athletes during practices, and overweight
athletes are more susceptible.
Heat illness during practice or competition is a leading cause of death and disability among U.S. high school
athletes, according to research funded by National Collegiate Athletic Association, American Football Coaches Association
and National Federation of State High School Associations. To examine the incidence and characteristics of heat illness
among high school athletes, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from the National High School
Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study for the period 2005-2009.
- Between 2005-2009, the 100 schools sampled reported a total of 118 heat illnesses among high school athletes,
resulting in more than one day of time lost from athletic activity and an average of 29.5 time-loss heat illnesses
per school year.
- The highest rate of time-loss heat illness was among football players.
- Time-loss heat illnesses occurred most frequently during August (66.3 percent) and while practicing or playing
football (70.7 percent).
Tips For Exercising Safely In The Heat
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) offers the following guidelines to guard against heat illnesses among athletes:
- Gradually increase activity in terms of intensity and duration in the heat. This prepares the body for more
intense, longer-duration exercise in warm conditions and helps prevent injury and heat illness.
- Intersperse periods of rest during activity and assure adequate rest between exercise bouts. Rest breaks are
an important defense against heat illness, and proper sleeping habits decrease the risk as well.
- Begin outdoor activities only after athletes are properly hydrated. Water or sports drinks should be available
throughout physical activity in the heat.
- Exercise during cooler portions of the day (early morning or late evening) if possible.
- Do not allow athletes to participate in intense exercise if they show signs of an existing illness (i.e., fever,
diarrhea, extreme fatigue, etc.). These can decrease the body’s tolerance for heat and increase the risk of a heat
illness. Back off on exercise intensity or duration if an athlete is not feeling well (i.e., walk instead of run,
cut the session short, etc.)
- Athletic events should employ an athletic trainer for coverage to assure proper medical supervision, recognition
and treatment of possible injuries and heat illness.
Tips For Treating Heat Illness In Athletes
If you suspect an athlete is suffering from heat illness, NATA recommends the following actions:
- Move the athlete to a cool environment and to rehydrate. Maintain normal hydration (as indicated by baseline body
- Hydrate with a sports drink like Gatorade, which contains carbohydrates and electrolytes (sodium and potassium)
before and during exercise to replace losses and provide energy.
- Hydrate throughout sports practice to minimize dehydration and maximize
- Seek medical attention to replace fluids via an intravenous line if athlete is nauseated or vomiting.
Reprinted with permission by The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and The National Athletic Trainers’ Association.