What Causes Heat Illnesses during Summer Sports?
Did you know that children adjust to heat more slowly than adults? Their bodies are less effective at regulating body heat than adults’ bodies. Now since most kids can walk outside on a hot summer day without any issues, why do youth athletes need to be so concerned with heat illnesses like cramps, exhaustion and heat stroke when participating in summer sports? What causes heat illnesses?
1. The weather.
This one is pretty obvious; air temperature and humidity, wind speed and the sun all affect how well our bodies do at cooling themselves. When it’s extra humid sweat has a harder time evaporating which means we can’t cool down as quickly as normal. Direct sun exposure for long periods of time (most baseball diamonds and soccer fields aren’t conveniently shaded!) can actually increase core body temperature, making it even harder for youth athletes to cool down.
In the winter time, aren’t you uncomfortable going from a freezing parking lot into a well-heated store if you don’t take several layers off? The same is true in the summer time. Heavy equipment like football and lacrosse pads and helmets or catcher’s gear make it harder for athletes to cool down because their skin isn’t exposed to fresh air, which would help their sweat evaporate and regulate their core temperature. For example, studies have shown that football uniforms decrease heat loss by 42% and make it three times as hard for the body to release excess body heat through evaporation.
Dark clothing absorbs heat, so players in dark uniforms are probably a little more uncomfortable than their counterparts in light colored clothes.
If you do not have enough fluids your body will not be able to effectively cool itself through sweat and evaporation. Since your body has to work harder to maintain core temperature when it’s hot outside, you will sweat more (even when you aren’t being active!) and you need to replace the fluids you are losing more frequently. That’s why it’s so important to make sure youth athletes are well hydrated BEFORE they go to practice. Athletes that are already slightly dehydrated when their practice/game starts are at a greater risk for heat illnesses.
It’s important that coaches also give their players enough time to adjust to the heat they’ll be playing in. Our bodies need time to adjust to extreme changes in temperature (like going from a well air conditioned car to the field), so be sure to give your team enough time to warm up and get used to the heat!