SOURCE: Children's Hospital of Georgia, news release, July 30, 2014
FRIDAY, Aug. 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Summertime fun often includes outdoor sports, but playing hard in the heat can be dangerous, experts warn.
Athletes are particularly vulnerable to problems that arise when the body's ability to cool itself is overwhelmed, explained Tim McLane, certified athletic trainer at Georgia Regents Sports Medicine Center.
Following just a few simple heat safety rules can protect the health of athletes and prevent issues like heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, he said.
"While training and preparation are important to succeed in sports, practicing heat safety is vital in order to protect the health of all athletes," advised McLane in a news release from the Children's Hospital of Georgia. "Athletes have a reputation for being tough. But the heat is not the time to prove it."
Spotting the early symptoms of heat illness is key, he said. Among the warning signs to consider:
"Call 911 immediately if you suspect an athlete has had a heat stroke," cautioned McLane. "Heat stroke is a true medical emergency and must be treated at a hospital."
However, while waiting for professional help, "you can provide some assistance by spraying the athlete's body with water, immersing it in water, or wrapping the athlete in cool, wet towels until an ambulance arrives," McLane said. "This can help quickly cool the body and possibly hold off the danger."
Although rest, stretching and drinking fluids can help heat cramps, there are other steps athletes and coaches can take to prevent these and other heat-related illnesses from developing in the first place. According to McLane, they include:
Dehydration is a major risk factor for heat-related illnesses, McLane added. This can occur in as little as 30 minutes when exercising on a hot day.
"Athletes should drink fluids regularly, because thirst is not a reliable indicator of fluid needs or dehydration," cautioned McLane.
Instead of drinking water to stay hydrated, McLane recommended cool, lightly sweetened sports drinks. Unlike water, these drinks help replace sodium and other electrolytes. He added that athletes should avoid carbonated beverages and fruit juices, which can upset the stomach during exercise.
In order to prevent dehydration, athletes should also take the following precautions:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on extreme heat and health.