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Prevention of Heat Illness

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Prevention of Heat Illness

It’s extra innings at the end of a long, hot tournament and one team is melting and the other is cool and fresh. Which team has a better chance to perform to their best capacity? Which team would you rather coach on or play on? This article will address some of the factors you can control to safely play at peak efficiency in hot and humid weather.

The body generates heat with increased activity. This heat needs to be reduced to maintain the body at it’s ideal operating temperature to continue with activity. The body perspires and the resulting sweat evaporates, helping lower the body temperature. Heat illnesses occur when the body cannot dissipate this heat due to dehydration, inadequate fluid replacement for when the heat and humidity rises and sweat cannot evaporate effectively.

Three major heat illnesses are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke which are progressively more serious in nature.

Heat cramps usually occur in the abdomen and the lower extremities, most commonly with spasm of the calf muscles. It is thought that this is due to fluid loss and possible electrolyte imbalance. Heat cramps are best treated with modifying activities, stretching exercises, massage and fluid replacement.

Heat exhaustion can occur when the body’s cooling system can’t keep up with dissipating the heat. This is probably due to the fact that the body has sent so much of it’s blood flow to the brain. This can result in dizziness, confusion, nausea and headache. The skin may be cool and clammy. Heat exhaustion is best treated by immediately stopping the activity, removing excess clothing and fluid replacement.

Heat stroke is a life threatening medical emergency when the body’s cooling system shuts down. It can occur without the warning of heat cramps or heat exhaustion. The body’s temperature can rise extremely high, which could cause brain damage. The skin is usually hot and dry. The athlete may become confused or disorientated and have a rapid heart rate. Immediate medical attention is required along with reducing body temperature with ice packs or emerging the entire body in cool water.

Prevention is much easier and safer to deal with than unexpected heat illnesses. Education of your athletes and reinforcing follow through is the key to prevention. If you are coaching them on the skills of softball, you should also prepare them to be able to perform at their peak performance.

  1. Hydration should be done before, during, and after activities. If an athlete feels thirsty, it is already too late. Don’t rely on thirst to tell when to replace fluids. If you are anticipating extremely hot and humid weather, encourage your athletes to increase fluid consumption 24 hours before the game.
  2. Replace fluids with cool water. Alcoholic beverages and caffeine beverages increase urine production and will contribute to dehydration. Sports drinks that are too high in sugar can slow water movement from the gut to the blood stream.
  3. Forget about taking salt tablets; they are not needed and may even cause muscle cramps.
  4. Monitor weight loss. For every pound of weight lost, you should replace it with at least a pint of water.
  5. In between innings, make it a habit to rehydrate, cool off with ice or a cold water head rinse and monitor athletes that could be at risk.
  6. Keep athletes in a shaded area as much as possible, in spite of them wanting to work on their tan.

Heat illnesses are preventable with education of the athlete, proper preparation and follow through. Let the best team win. Don’t get beat by the heat.