Heat might be part of summer fun, but it can make this season deadly, as well. So far in 2014, one coach and six high school football players have already died, and the summer season isn’t quite over yet. Although not all of the deaths have had a final ruling on cause, medical experts think heat is the likely culprit. Part of the tragedy of deaths by heat-stroke is that in many cases, death is entirely preventable.
According to David Csillan, an athletic trainer working at Ewing High School in New Jersey, part of the issue is allowing athletes to acclimatize to higher temperatures — “too much, too soon” frequently occurs, says Csillan. Coaches, he says, should ease into wearing more equipment for the first several days, and begin with less intensive workouts. He points out that many teenagers working out now do so in air conditioning, so that when they finally have to do intense, outdoor conditioning in late July, the hot weather comes as a surprise to their systems.
Athletes are also, not surprisingly, at risk for dehydration while practicing. For athletes that are overweight, who haven’t been exercising consistently, or who have to wear protective gear, dehydration is a constant risk. This risk can be mitigated through constant water breaks, and sports drinks that provide electrolytes should also be consumed during practice. Severe dehydration can lead to heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Ice water is a gold standard for responding quickly to heat stroke, which can become a deadly condition. If players are placed in a tub of cold water and ice, it can help to lower their body temperature quickly and out of dangerous ranges.
“I sit with these families and I am the one who explains to the parents if they’d had a tub, an athletic trainer and ice and water, their child’s life would have been saved for a couple hundred dollars,” explains Douglas Casa, COO of the Korey Stringer Institute, a nonprofit that aims to prevent sports-related sudden deaths. Casa himself was once an athlete saved by cold-water immersion. “That, unfortunately, is the most horrific news they could ever hear.”