Wetumpka High sophomore Hoyt Hardin takes a sip after working out Tuesday afternoon.
Wetumpka High sophomore Hoyt Hardin takes a sip after working out Tuesday afternoon.

Pediatricians offer tips on keeping cool during the Dog Days

Published 10:43am Wednesday, June 5, 2013

With the past school year a distant memory, all-star games, lazy days on the water and outdoor adventures become paramount.

But, this is Alabama and as the days grow longer the closer the mercury climbs to surface-of-the-sun hot, with air thick enough to chew.

“A lot of these things are common sense,” said Dr. Gary McCulloch of Eclectic Family Care. “They should wear sun screen and limit sun exposure, that will keep the burns down. And if they maintain a state of hydration, they’ll be fine.”

Of all the suggestions that will follow, according to both doctors (McCulloch and Dr. Jim Carlile of Wetumpka’s Carlile Pediatric) and Sports Safety International, the most important is to provide an abundance of opportunities for the young athletes (of all ages) to keep hydrated.

“Coaches should schedule breaks every 10-15 minutes  for every activity that’s going to last over an hour,” said Carlile. “That will give (players) a chance to cool off and keep hydrated.”

According to Sports Safety International, the biggest component to keeping child-athletes safe during the Dog Days is to know their level of conditioning.

“Coaches should identify the athletes that are going to be high risk,” said Carlile.

“And it’s not just the obese kids, it’s the kids that have moved into the area. We have a lot of military families coming  into Wetumpka. They haven’t acclimated to our climate. Coaches do a good job of knowing the kids that have chronic illnesses or need to take medication.”

Failing to allow athletes  time to acclimate to the heat could lead issues later on.

“We see a lot of heat fatigue and heat exhaustion,” said Carlile. “At least 3-5 percent, and its mostly football because they are wearing more equipment or going at it longer. Those guys are bigger and stronger and they have a false sense of belief that it won’t happen to them.”

Heat-related illnesses come in three phases, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The first is cramps, usually of the leg. eat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps.

“We recommend that they stop exercising and begin to replace the fluids they’ve lost with either water or a sports drink,” said Carlile. “It’s also a good indicator that the athlete needs more conditioning.”

For the older athletes, McCulloch recommends they pay attention to their bodily functions.

“I tell the high school football players up here to watch their urine,” said McCulloch.

“That’s the best way to tell where you are. If it’s darker than normal, they’re getting dehydrated and need to drink a little more water.”

Heat exhaustion, the second phase, is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.

“If you take their temp, it’s going to be elevated but it’s going to be under 104 degrees,” said Carlile.

“The  treatment is for them to stop exercising immediately and get into a shaded or air conditioned area. Give them water or a sports drink. If it’s severe, take them to the emergency room.”

McCulloch agrees, but throws in an easier identifier: Know the kids and their personalities.

“If a kid starts acting strange, like they’re in some kind of altered state, that’s a dangerous sign,” said McCulloch. “They should be sweating. Sweat is a good thing. If they stop sweating and start acting addled, get some fluids in them immediately.”

The doctors agreed that if an athlete goes from sweating profusely to sweating very little or not at all, they’ve drifted off into the third phase of heat-related illnesses and it could lead to a heat stroke.

“Call 911,” said Carlile, “immediately. If they’ve gotten to that point, their body temperature has gone above 104 degrees and they need to be taken to the emergency room.”

Carlile recommended that water breaks should be allowed every 10-15 minutes of activity and that the intensity of the workouts, length and equipment used should be slowly increased over the first 10 days.

“This helps train their bodies to drink more, increases blood volume and allows them to sweat more,” according to Sports Safety.

The easiest way to avoid having to deal with heat-related illnesses, according to Sports Safety, is to set practice times and durations prior to or after the hottest part of the day.

“If coaches schedule practices during the coolest parts of the day, and keep their kids hydrated, the chance they’ll be exposed to a heat-related illness will be greatly reduced,” said Carlile.

“The best time is either early morning or late in the evening. And if they can’t do it at those time, they should look at moving the practices indoors or to a shady area.”

OSHA recommends that participants wear proper clothing to the workouts or practices, and that “lightweight, light-colored clothing is best. Ventilated shorts and T-shirts let heat dissipate.

“For sports that use heavy equipment and pads, let young athletes practice in lighter clothes for a week to acclimate their bodies,” adds Sports Safety.

“Then progress to full equipment.”

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