Helping Young Athletes Beat Heat Illness

A pediatrician shares advice on ways to tackle heat illness in young athletes.

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CLEVELAND – If your children are playing sports this summer or starting practices for fall, it’s important to know heat illness can sideline young athletes.

“Kids who are playing in sand volleyball tournaments, softball tournaments, baseball tournaments, those kids are cramping. Even during doubles at practice you’re getting tight cramps, those kids are probably behind on their electrolytes,” said Richard So, MD, pediatrician with Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

Dr. So said heat illness is usually the result of overexertion in hot, humid weather and can cause fatigue, muscle cramping or heat stroke – which can be deadly.

He recommends drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. In fact, he advises athletes drink water the night before to ensure they’re well hydrated when they hit the field.

Once play is underway, in addition to water, he suggests saltier drinks and snacks to replace lost electrolytes and prevent cramping. It’s also a good idea for kids to take frequent breaks.

If an athlete appears to be suffering from heat exhaustion, which may include headache, irritability, vomiting, dizziness, or fainting, it’s important to lower their body temperature as soon as possible.

“You put ice over their large arteries and blood vessels. You put ice in their groins, ice in the armpits and hose them down,” he said. “Number one thing is cool them down, get them in the shade and then get them as hydrated as quickly as you can. Obviously oral hydration would be the best.”

Doctor So said an athlete who is vomiting in the heat should be observed, cooled down, rehydrated and not return to activity that day. If they have slurred speech, are confused, agitated or having hallucinations, they should get medical help right away.

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