What Puts Youth Athletes At-Risk?
Heat-related illnesses are some of the most common problems for youth athletes playing in the heat. These conditions can be dangerous, or even fatal in some cases. Heat-induced illness is one of the most preventable sports injuries. Parents, young athletes and coaches need to understand the physiological factors that increase the risk for heat-related illness and take steps to prevent it.
Why kids are at risk:
1) Children absorb more heat from a hot environment because they have a greater surface-area to body-mass ratio than adults. The smaller the child the faster they heat up.
2) Children and adolescents may have a reduced ability to dissipate heat through sweating.
3) Children and adolescents frequently do not have the physiological drive to drink enough fluids to replenish sweat losses during prolonged exercise.
4) Youth athletes may be more easily distracted when occasions allow for them to rest and rehydrate.
Signs of Dehydration and Heat Illness
If dehydration progresses unchecked, the risk of heat illness increases. Heat illness is best understood in three separate degrees of severity: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and the most serious and deadly form, heat stroke. The symptoms outlined below do not necessarily occur in progression, so young athletes could experience heat stroke in absence of other indicators.
Heat Illness Prevention Techniques
- Acclimation to the heat is an important factor in preventing heat illness. The rate of acclimation for children is slower than that of adults.
- A child needs as many as 8 to 10 days (45-60 minutes/day) in a new climate to acclimate sufficiently. Such exposures can be taken at a rate of one per day or one every other day.
- During the acclimation process, it’s important to drink adequate amounts of fluid to build blood plasma volumes.
- When a child becomes acclimated and his or her sweat rate increases, it’s important the child drink sufficient fluids to replace the increased sweat losses and stay hydrated.
- Medical staff, parents, players and coaches must understand that thirst is not a good indicator of a child’s fluid needs, so children need to drink on a schedule.
- Parents and coaches should encourage breaks in a shaded area whenever possible, especially during tournaments, multi-game and multi-practice days.
- It’s important to be aware of high temperatures and humidity and modify practice times or duration.
- Additionally, competitive rules need to be relaxed during hot weather playing conditions.
- Practices must be modified based on conditions. Add rest breaks to lower core temperature and provide ample time to rehydrate.
- Children should wear clothing that is light-colored, which will absorb less heat from the sun.
- Lightweight, loose-fitting materials help to facilitate the evaporation of sweat.
Heat stress is affected by air temperature, humidity, and direct sunshine. Use heat index or wet bulb temperature/wet bulb globe temperature as a guide for workouts or competitions. Modify workouts and competition in response to the environmental conditions.