Mr. Norris, I’ve been really worried about my son who is in preseason high-school football training in high temperatures. His coach says they are taking precautions to keep the boys safe. But what can I do to help him avoid suffering heat exhaustion? – Lisa C., Tulsa, Okla.
Dangerous August heat waves continue across the country. In my hometown in Texas, temperatures for the next 10 days are again 101-104 F, with copious humidity. So my family and I understand what you mean by hot.
Our bodies generally do a great job of regulating our temperature. When we get too hot, they sweat for temperature control. In excessive heat, however, their resources quickly are depleted.
With the loss of bodily hydration and electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, your body can suffer heat exhaustion – the symptoms of which can be muscle cramps, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, headache, profuse sweating and a body temperature higher than 100 F.
Dr. Rahul Khare, a professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University who treats more than 100 heat-related illnesses every summer, says that if you appear to be suffering from heat exhaustion, you should get out of the heat and into a cool area and drink a sports drink or replenish with water without gorging. Use cold compresses if available. If you continue to show signs of heat exhaustion and don’t improve, seek a physician’s help.
If the symptoms of heat exhaustion are not relieved, they can progress to a heatstroke, when our body’s temperature regulation system overloads or shuts down – much like how a car overheats. The symptoms of heatstroke are rapid but shallow pulse and breathing; hot, red and dry skin; no sweating; 104 F or higher temperature; confusion; irritability; seizures; and even a loss of consciousness.
Heatstroke is a true medical emergency. Even if you survive one, you still could suffer irreparable damage to nerves or other vital organs – such as the kidneys, which regulate fluid absorption and maintain a fine range of electrolyte fluctuation.
For many years, research suggested that children were less at risk for heat-related illnesses. New research, however, reveals that children and adults of similar fitness levels have similar responses to heat exertion, even when they are well-hydrated. The fact is, according to Khare, small children and the elderly are likely more susceptible because of physical volatility or the tendency to overlook conditions that exacerbate heat-related illnesses.
HealthDay recently reported that new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics show that heat exhaustion, heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses are preventable in young athletes, just as they are in adults. In a revised policy statement, “Climatic Heat Stress and Exercising Children and Adolescents,” published in the September 2011 issue of Pediatrics, the AAP recommends that “youth sports programs implement comprehensive strategies to safeguard against heat illness.”
Researcher Stephen G. Rice explained: “Most healthy children and athletes can safely participate in outdoor sports and activities in a wide range of warm to hot weather, but adults sometimes create situations that are potentially dangerous. Heat illness is entirely preventable if coaches and other adults take some precautions to protect the young athletes.”
The AAP report recommends that parents, kids and coaches be educated about preventing heat-related illnesses, gradually adapt to exercise in the hot weather and be offered time and encouragement to hydrate before, during and after physical activity.
“While coaches should make on-the-field decisions to improve safety for a team or event as a whole, individual participants may require more or less concern based on their health status and conditioning,” said co-author Michael F. Bergeron.
In short, variant human weight and history of health warrants not only group but also individual focus.
The Texas AgriLife Extension Service compiled a great online recommendation list for preventing heat exhaustion. I recommend that everyone read it. Here are some great tips from it for aiding your body’s cooling system in the heat:
- Avoid outside activities during hot times of day. If you are required to be outside, drink water often and take frequent breaks, preferably in shade.
- Wear light-colored clothes, and get wet.
- Drink at least a gallon of liquid a day (about 16 glasses) when the outside temperature is higher than 90 F and you are not in air-conditioned surroundings.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to maintain adequate amounts of sodium, calcium and potassium.
- Don’t drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, because they cause you to lose fluid.
- Drink two 8-ounce glasses of water, juice or a sports drink two hours before physical activity.
- Drink 4 to 8 ounces of water or a sports drink five to 10 minutes before physical activity.
- Drink 8 to 10 ounces of fluid, or as much as you can tolerate, every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity.
For a more holistic medical approach, my wife, Gena, and I recommend Sierra Integrative Medical Center, in Reno, Nev. The people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies.