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New Advice for Keeping Young Athletes Safe in Heat

Fluids, Commonsense Measures Can Help Protect Young Athletes From Heat-Related Illness
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 8, 2011 -- As aspiring football and soccer stars hit the fields for preseason training, there’s new advice on how to keep young athletes safe when exercising in the heat.

New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) show that heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses are preventable in young athletes much in the same way they are in adults.

Previous research had suggested that children are less effective than adults at regulating body temperature and are at higher risk of heat-related illness. But new research shows that children and adults of comparable fitness levels have similar responses to heat exertion when they are well hydrated.

“Most healthy children and athletes can safely participate in outdoor sports and activities in a wide range of warm to hot weather, but adults sometimes create situations that are potentially dangerous,” researcher Stephen G. Rice, MD, former member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, says in a news release. “Heat illness is entirely preventable if coaches and other adults take some precautions to protect the young athletes.”

Preventing Heat-Related Illness

Researchers say exertional heat illnesses, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, can happen even in moderate heat, but the highest risk occurs when children and adolescents are vigorously active outdoors in hot and humid conditions.

The new guidelines call for parents and other adults in charge of running practices and games on hot, humid days to exercise common sense to keep kids safe against heat-related illness.

“While coaches should make on-the-field decisions to improve safety for a team or event as a whole, individual participants may require more or less concern based on their health status and conditioning,” researcher Michael F. Bergeron, PhD, director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., says in a news release.

For example, a physically fit, well-hydrated, 12-year-old soccer player who is used to the heat would typically be fine playing on a 95-degree day. But an overweight football player recovering from an illness and running wind sprints at the end of a long day of workouts on the first day of preseason football would be at higher risk even if its only 85 degrees.

Researchers say the biggest change in the guidelines is the recognition that children can tolerate and adapt to exercising in the heat as well as adults of similar fitness levels as long as they are adequately hydrated.

To reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses, the guidelines recommend:

  • Modifying activity as needed, given the heat and limitations of individual athletes. Practices and games may need to be canceled or rescheduled to cooler times.
  • Providing rest periods of at least two hours between same-day contests in warm to hot weather.
  • Limiting participation of children who have had a recent illness or have other risk factors that would reduce exercise-heat tolerance.
  • Providing risk-reduction training for coaches, trainers, and other adults.
  • Ensuring trained staff is available on site to monitor for and promptly treat heat illness.
  • Educating children about preparing for the heat to improve safety and reduce the risk for heat illness.
  • Allowing children to gradually adapt to physical activity in the heat.
  • Offering time for and encouraging sufficient fluid intake before, during, and after exercise.
  • Developing and having in place an emergency action plan.

 

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