Heat Stroke: Dangerous But Avoidable

Heat waves across the country raise concern for young athletes both on the field and off

Playing outdoors may be fun. But too much heat -- especially when it's coupled with stifling humidity -- can put you at risk for heat stroke. You can, however, take measures to significantly reduce (if not completely eliminate) this risk by staying hydrated and listening to your body.

It is particularly important to teach children who are involved in sports about heat stroke. As of August 12, the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury reported at least six high school football players and one coach dead due to heat illness -- just since the start of the 2011 season. While coaches around the country are taking precautionary measures to make sure the fatality count on the field stays put, there are measures you should take to play it safe at home.

Heat stroke is a bit of a misnomer says Dr. Rhena Ruiz-Novero, a family medicine specialist at Coral Gables Hospital in Coral Gables, FL. "It's not a stroke, but it appears as one," she says. When the body's temperature ticks past 103 degrees Fahrenheit, stroke-like symptoms, such as throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness, can occur. The skin may also feel hot and dry, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People under age 5 and over age 65 are at greatest risk because their bodies are not as efficient at cooling themselves down. Those suffering from fever, dehydration, obesity, heart disease or mental illness are also at increased risk, as are those with sunburn (which further decreases your body's ability to cool itself). Medications for Parkinson's disease, psychotropics, certain tranquilizers and diuretics also increase your risk.

Stay Hydrated and Cool
Chill out in hot temperatures to protect yourself from heat stroke. "If it's very hot and humid you should avoid exercising outside," Dr. Ruiz-Novero says. "When relative humidity is over 75 percent and it's over 95 degrees outside, your body can no longer keep up with cooling itself down."

If you must be outside on blistering days, drink a lot of water but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Eat small meals and limit your protein intake, which can increase metabolic heat as it's digested. Drink 16 to 32 ounces of cool fluids every hour, says the CDC.

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