Athletes And Heat Exhaustion: Prevention And Treatment Tips

Heat Exhaustion

On the football field, the greatest danger to your health isn’t the 250-pound linebacker running full speed toward you with full intent to hit you as hard as his body will allow.

No, the greatest danger to you is the sun. In addition to the long-term, skin cancer risk-increasing damage that the sun doles out regularly, there’s a more immediate threat of heat exhaustion, which kills hundreds of Americans every year.

This risk isn’t exclusive to football players.  Athletes who participate in baseball, soccer, basketball, or any other strenuous activity need to prepare themselves for heat exhaustion and know how to treat it to best protect their health.

What Is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a medical emergency that occurs when a person is losing a lot of water and electrolytes through sweat and isn’t replaced what they lose through hydration.

Symptoms include:

  • Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • High body temperature
  • Occasionally, death

There are two types of heat exhaustion – water depletion and salt depletion.

Water depletion is usually marked by the symptoms of thirst, weakness, and headaches.  Salt Depletion is more associated with the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

Heat Exhaustion Prevention

The following tips will help any athlete prevent heat exhaustion:

  • Drink A Lot Of Fluids: Obviously, you should make sure to drink water the moment you get thirsty to stave off heat exhaustion. What’s less obvious perhaps is that you shouldn’t wait to get thirsty to drink, just keeping consuming fluids constantly to make up for everything you’re losing through sweat.
  • …But Not Just Any Fluid: Drinking alcohol or caffeine will only make you more dehydrated, and anything served too cold could cause you to cramp. Stick to cool but not chilled water and you’ll be fine.
  • Ask About Any Meds: If you’re on any medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are any possible complications that would arise from vigorous exercise being combined with your meds.
  • Maintain Good Hygiene: Shower often, brush your teeth and floss twice a day. Flossing is very important for dental health. Keeping yourself as free of germs as possible at home will allow your body to build up its natural defenses for when you’re on the field.
  • Wear Loose Clothing: During a game, you don’t have much of a choice in what kind of uniform you wear. But during practice and other, more casual athletic activities where you do have more control, wear loose clothing that lets your skin breathe.
  • Work Around The Weather: Again, as an athlete on a team, you don’t have a lot of say in many matters. You don’t get to set when the games or practices are. But for any outdoor exercising that you do on your own time, try to avoid working out during the hours of 2 – 4 PM, as this is generally the hottest part of the day.

Heat Exhaustion Treatment

Ideally, an athlete would have followed the tips mentioned above and prevented heat exhaustion from happening in the first place.

But life, of course, is not always ideal. If heat exhaustion does set in, here’s how you treat it:

  • Immediately move into a cooler space
  • Take off all excess clothing
  • Place cold, wet towels over the body or, alternatively, take a cold shower
  • Drink water
  • Lie down and put your feet up
  • Use a fan to cool down

Hopefully, you won’t ever have to implement those treatment measures for yourself.

Dr. Jonathan Everett of Kirkland Family Dentistry in Kirkland, WA strongly suggests that you stay hydrated and stay safe.

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