Parkland physician warns athletes to know signs of heat illness

Practice common sense when preparing for the season

DALLAS – Young athletes practicing in hot weather are at risk for heat illness, and it can happen outside or inside a hot gym. Therefore, physicians with Parkland Health & Hospital System warn athletes, coaches and parents to know how hot is too hot.

Knowing the temperature and humidity is important. Watch the heat index, which measures how hot it really feels when humidity is combined with air temperature. The combination of heat and humidity can be dangerous.

“Even practicing during the early morning or late evening can lead to severe heat stress,” said Alexander Eastman, MD, interim trauma medical director at Parkland and the lead medical officer for the Dallas Police Department SWAT team. “Even in finely tuned, athletic SWAT officers, heat injuries can occur without much warning. It’s important that everything be taken into consideration before, and especially during, any type of practice regardless if there is physical contact or not.”

In 2012, 28 patients were treated at Parkland for heat-related illnesses including heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Of those, 10 had to be hospitalized. Since January, eight patients have been treated in Parkland’s Emergency Department with a heat-related diagnosis. Of those, two required hospitalization.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that outdoor activities should be scheduled carefully. Even if outdoor activity is limited to morning and evening hours, athletes are advised to try to rest often in shady areas so that the body’s thermostat will have a chance to recover.

In addition, athletes should pace themselves. If they are not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes an individual’s heart pound and leaves them gasping for breath, stop all activity. Get in a cool area or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if they are lightheaded, confused, weak or faint.

“One of the most important things people can do is have a buddy system,” Dr. Eastman said. “When practicing in the heat, monitor your teammates and have someone do the same for you. And, above all, practice common sense and know the warning signs.”

Dr. Eastman said watch for signs and symptoms like: 

  • Feeling tired or weak 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Headache or muscle cramps 
  • Dizziness or disorientation 
  • Sweat-soaked pale skin 
  • Loss of consciousness

Teams and schools should have a plan to help athletes slowly get used to practicing in hot weather. Kids are most at risk for heat illness during the first days of practice. They should wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Regularly drink plenty of water and never limit the amount kids may drink during games or practice.

“And athletes never should practice or play if they’re sick, especially with a fever, vomiting or diarrhea,” Dr. Eastman warned. “If an athlete has a medical condition, like asthma, or is taking medication, tell the coach. Coaches should know each athlete’s physical condition because it can increase the risk for heat illness.”

Heat stroke is the top cause of preventable death in high school athletes, according to the CDC. If you think a young athlete has heat illness, quickly get medical assistance or call 911.

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About Us

Serving Dallas County residents, Parkland Health & Hospital System is one of the largest public hospital systems in the country with 809 operating beds and more than 9,700 employees. Hospital services include a Level I Trauma Center, the second largest civilian burn center in the U.S. and a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Our health system also includes 12 community-based clinics, 12 school-based clinics and Jail Health. For more information, visit www.parklandhospital.com.

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