Q. I have two teenage sons who play football. Practices are long and intense. What are your recommendations for protecting them from dehydration and overheating?
A. As temperatures rise, reports of heat-related illnesses climb. The three main forms are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Children, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure or heart disease are at a greater risk of heat-related injuries.
Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat-related injury. These muscle cramps result from excessive salt and water loss from sweating and are treated with rest and re-hydration.
Heat exhaustion brings headaches, nausea or vomiting, weakness or fatigue, pallor, dizziness and muscle cramps. Somebody with these symptoms should get to a cool environment and drink cold fluids. Left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. If symptoms have not resolved after one hour, seek medical treatment.
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Heat stroke happens when the body loses its ability to cool down. The person will have fever, lack of sweating, rapid pulse, headache and confusion. In some cases, heat stroke can be fatal. If heat stroke is suspected, it is important to cool the person as quickly as possible and call EMS.
Parents and coaches need to be aware of the early signs of heat-related injuries. To prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke, practices and outdoor activities should be scheduled in the early mornings or late evenings. Children and teens should acclimate slowly to high temperatures by gradually increasing their activity level over 14 days.
Also, they should take mandatory water/drink breaks every 20 minutes. Water is adequate for rehydration during the first 30-45 minutes of exercise. Sports drinks that include electrolytes should be used for rehydration after the first 45 minutes.