By Jason Bennett, DA, ATC, Associate Professor at Chapman University
The Centers for Disease Control reported that heat illness was a leading cause of death and disability of high school athletes from 2005-2009 (Yard, et al., 2010). Fortunately, heat illness is 100% preventable with the appropriate knowledge and procedures in place. While about 70% of high school athletes who suffer from heat illness are football players, girls volleyball and girls soccer are second and third respectively.
As athletes and coaches prepare for fall season sports, it is critical for all to understand the different types of heat illness, how to treat these types of heat illness, and most importantly, how to prevent heat illness.
It is important to clarify the different conditions that encompass heat illness, some of which are life threatening. The primarily heat illness conditions include muscle cramps, heat syncope, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (Binkley, et al., 2002). The challenge in determining the difference between heat syncope, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke is in measuring core body temperature. Unfortunately, oral, tympanic (ear), and axillary (armpit) measures of temperature are inaccurate in measuring core body temperature.
Research has found that rectal temperatures are the most accurate method of measuring core body temperature. Because measuring rectal temperature is not feasible in many cases, it is best to contact someone on site who is in charge of the health care of the athletes (e.g., certified athletic trainer) or call 9-1-1 to ensure proper care when suspecting heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Some athletes do not progress through the different types of heat illness, in fact, the first time it is noticeable that the athlete has heat illness might be when they have heat stroke and in an emergency situation.
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