Heat Related Illness in Young Athletes

Tips to help prevent heat-related illness during high heat or humidity sports

Bright sun and warm weather are great for getting outdoors and playing sports. At the same time, however, the heat and sun can cause injuries and illnesses that most of us – particularly kids – aren’t accustomed to during the rest of the year. During the summer months parents are careful when kids are playing outside, but think of fall as a time when the air is cooler and more comfortable. The fact is, what autumn sports get underway it can be during some of the hottest weather of the year.

Heat-related illnesses can be an issue in young athletes. Heat stress and sunstroke are serious conditions that parents, students and teachers should be aware of before they begin practice or games, and consider a school sports physical therapy evaluation.

Why Kids Are More at Risk for Heat Illness

Children, after the elderly, are the most at-risk group for heat-related illness and injury. This can be surprising for many parents – kids are young, and their bodies heal faster, after all, so why is heat such a danger to them? Children’s bodies don’t adjust as well to the heat and humidity as an adults will. Kids don’t sweat as much, so they can’t regulate temperatures as easily and their body surface is a greater proportion of their weight – increasing water loss.

Some children may be at a greater risk. Take extra care if your child is on certain medications, for example, or is overweight. If your child is playing any sports, make sure to have him or her drink plenty of water, as the heavy sports gear can heat up a child quickly.

The Different Heat Illnesses

In order of least to most severe, the different heat-related illnesses include:

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are painful, but not necessarily life-threatening. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures, especially when your child is playing sports or doing exercise, can cause painful soreness and cramps in the torso and limbs.

Heat exhaustion/stress

Heat exhaustion is more serious – symptoms include nausea, dizziness, confusion, even vomiting. This is a serious condition that needs immediate treatment.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke occurs when a child’s overall body temperature sits at 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Signs of heat stroke are just as severe as the condition itself, including seizures, unconsciousness, and comas. Both heat stroke and heat exhaustion require immediate medical attention.

Staying Safe in the Sun

Young athletes love to play outside, and there’s nothing wrong with outdoor activity when they take the proper safety precautions. Here are some basic tips to help keep them comfortable and healthy during high heat or humidity sports events:

  • The best way to keep your kids safe in the sun is to ensure they stay hydrated. Always make sure to have water on hand and remind them to drink whenever they’re hot or thirsty.
  • When playing outdoor sports, make sure their clothing is loose and lightweight.
  • Try to avoid playing outdoors during the hottest part of the day.
  • Vigorous exercise should also be broken up every 15 minutes or so with lighter, easier activity. This allows children’s bodies to rest and recover before continuing to heat up.

Visit our PT blog for more articles on summer safety tips and autumn sports injury prevention. Our physical therapy clinics in Malta/Saratoga and Queensbuy/Glens Falls provide peventative and treatment techniques for athletes of all ages.