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Heat-Related Illness and Football Training

Posted Thursday, August 05, 2010 by Accu-Weather Staff

Heat-Related Illness a Concern as Football Training Camps Start

By Gina Cherundolo, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
Aug 5, 2010; 7:15 AM ET
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Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta gets a drink during football training camp, Tuesday, July 27, 2010, in Westminster, Md. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

With high school, college and professional football training ramping up over the next few weeks, heat-related illness will be a concern as the above-average summer still has the heat turned on for much of the country.

The Northeast and Upper Midwest will be hot, but not as hot as what was experienced for most of July. Meanwhile, much of the South will continue to broil under above-average temperatures and very high humidity.

Already nine student football players have been taken to the hospital for heat-related illness in Alabama and Kentucky. Five students at Rowan County High School in Kentucky were treated for dehydration and released Wednesday, while one other was kept overnight for observation. Three more students were reportedly taken to the hospital in Huntsville, Ala.

NFL training camps are already in session, and a large amount of teams are training in areas that have had significant above-normal temperatures. The Philadelphia Eagles are training in Bethlehem, Pa., and nearby Allentown, Pa. has been an average of 4 degrees above normal since June 1.

Likewise, other NFL cities such as Foxboro, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans have all been at least 2 degrees above normal, which is very significant this time of year, according to AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Heat-Related Illness is Always a Risk

Frederick Mueller is the director of the National Center of Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and publishes an Annual Survey of Football Injury Research. According to the most recent report, 2009 had three cases of heat stroke death at the high school level and one case at the collegiate level, with 42 total (high school, college, professional) football player heat stroke deaths occurring since 1995.

Mueller, who is also a professor of exercise and sports science at the university, said heat-related illness is preventable as long as the proper precautions are taken, and most of heat-related deaths occur with younger players during the first few weeks of practice.

"Parents should be aware what coaches are doing," he said. "They should know what procedures are in place."

Dr. Kristen Clary, a family medicine physician who specializes in primary care sport medicine, said have a higher risk of heat-related illness.

"Children are most susceptible because they don't sweat as much," Clary said, adding that children also have a relatively higher surface area than adults do, which also makes them more prone to heat-related illness.

Adam Day, a certified athletic trainer and the head athletic trainer at State College Area School District in State College, Pa., said adolescents are at higher risk because their circulatory systems heat up faster and cool down slower. Obese athletes are also at a higher risk, he said.

Signs, Symptoms and Prevention

Clary said it is important recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness, as well as what to if someone has them.

Symptoms of heat illness and heat exhaustion include fatigue, dizziness and increased thirst.

"Most kids aren't in tune enough with their bodies to know that thirst means dehydration, and they try to work through the thirst," Day said. "Thirst is the first sign of dehydration."

However, symptoms such as decreased sweating, confusion and disorientation could indicate heat stroke, a serious condition that results in a body system shutdown and could be fatal if not treated properly.

Clary said if a person is showing symptoms of heat illness, to attempt to cool them down immediately. Removing heavy equipment such as pads and helmets, taking the person to a shaded area and applying ice packs are all ways to quickly lower a person's body temperature.

However, if the person hasn't shown signs of improvement after a few minutes, then medical attention is crucial. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, the affected person should be stabilized and cooled down, preferably by placing the person in a tub of ice water.

Day added that plenty of fluids and adequate rest periods help prevent heat-related illness, but the weather is also an important factor. The heat index and wet bulb temperature are monitored, and when temperatures are deemed too hot for a full practice, coaches will have film sessions, weight room training, or walkthroughs with helmets only.

"Water and hydration is only part of it," Day said. "The time of day also matters, and we encourage coaches to limit practice in the hottest part of the day."

He added that coaches are encouraged to hold two-a-day practices in the early morning and late afternoon, when temperatures are cooler.

Weigh-ins are also used to prevent illness. Players weigh in prior to and following practices to keep track of a player's water weight loss. If the player has not gained the weight back by the next practice, they should be monitored and/or sit out of the practice.

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