Heat and Humidity Impact on Sports

At dinner last night we talked about heat stroke and heat exhaustion when doing high energy sports such as running or soccer in the Florida summers. Humidity and its steaminess add to the problem in Florida. The heat index measures how it feels outside instead of just the temperature. Heat indexing is an indicator of the temperature and the relative humidity in the shade and will be higher in the sun. When the heat index is 90 degrees F. or above, it is time to take steps to prevent heat exhaustion or stroke or to nip the symptoms in the bud quickly.

Some high school football athletes make local headlines every year due to deadly heat exhaustion or stroke issues during strenuous practices or games. Heat exhaustion can quickly becomes deadly heat stroke without intervention to cool the body. One of my sons was Army Airborne and a Drill Sergeant for many years. He wisely taught, practiced, and even preached the importance of proper hydration in order to stay alive while enduring strenuous and long drills and exercises.

Our family sweats. This is good. Each of us has to cool our bodies when heat is oppressive or else we can rapidly become ill or die. Heat exhaustion happens when our bodies become overheated and we can no longer naturally cool off. Humidity hampers our body cooling systems. Humidity intensifies the issue of heat illnesses. Our family runners and our family soccer player practice prevention of heat exhaustion by hydrating before exercising as well as during and after. Salty foods before activity may also help to maintain sodium levels.


Symptoms of Heat Rash

I have had this as a baby, as a child and as a young adult. As an older adult I just do not get active enough in heat situations to have this occur now. Heat rash occurs when sweat ducts are blocked and the skin gets an itchy and pimply rash. It has never lasted long for me.


Symptoms of Heat Cramps

A nasty overheating problem is Heat Cramps. They may occur during or even after exercise. Deep muscle contractions, especially in the lower legs or stomach area, is a strong sign of heat cramps, as are unexpected muscle spasms or twitching. Excessive sweating and dehydration are also clues to stop, rest, rehydrate. Treatment to overcome heat cramps includes drinking water and electrolyte sports drinks, resting in shade, stretching the muscles, massaging them, and applying ice to the affected muscles. Also consider eating salty pretzels or potassium-rich foods such as bananas.


Symptoms of Heat Stress

Hyperventilation is a key symptom. Leave the field, rest in shade, and slow down your breathing. Other symptoms may include numbness, tingling, and muscle spasms. This can occur in some people without exercise even.

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

Excessive heat, inadequate or spent hydration plus exhaustion equals the likelihood of heat exhaustion. When on the soccer field, feeling hot while pale, dizzy, confused, or weak is a warning sign that should not be ignored. Having a sudden headache or feeling nauseous are also warning signs. My granddaughter has experienced some of these symptoms and trouble breathing. She gets off the field immediately to treat these symptoms by cooling off her body. She rests and sits in the shade under the portable team canopy and drinks lots of water or sports drinks with electrolytes such as Gatorade. She will pour some water over her head and cool her arms and hands with some water on her skin. Sometimes she will even wet her soccer uniform to assist in her cooling efforts. She may place a wet cool cloth or ice against her skin, or elevate her legs to promote blood circulation. She may also fan herself while resting. These types of measures have always worked for her. It she were unable to cool her body, then she is subject to heat stroke and will need medical attention.

Heat Stroke Symptoms

During heavy exercise an elevated body temperature exceeding 101 degrees F. is not likely due to fever, but is due to heat trapped within the body. A very high core body temperature of 104 -106 degrees F. is lethal. Heat stoke is deadly and must be treated rapidly. The heat can damage critical organs of the body. The person has now likely experienced the same symptoms of heat exhaustion, but instead of sweating to cool down skin, the person’s skin has become hot and dry. They no longer sweat. Collapsing into unconsciousness may well occur along with trouble breathing or experiencing shortness of breath, severe headache, disorientation and even seizures or vomiting. The skin may look red and the pulse is rapid. If the person is vomiting, fluids likely won’t help. The body must be cooled externally. This is a time to call 911, get the person into air conditioning (a car with the air on for example near the field), apply ice to the underarm and groin areas, neck and back which was rich with blood vessels to help carry the cooling of the skin throughout the person’s body and to the organs. An ice bath would be great, but do the best practice available in the field. Sometimes heat stroke is sudden versus accelerating from heat exhaustion. My granddaughter may well have experienced some heat stroke issues when her breathing became a problem. She recovered quickly by hydrating, etc.

Note: For those not exercising , but those subjected to excessive heat over several days, for example, a heat stroke can develop. Classically, the skin is hot, dry and red. Sweating typically stops or becomes quite excessive compared to the surroundings involved.

Summary:

Prevent by hydrating before exercise. Try to prevent the body temperature from rising critically (hyperthermia). If symptoms occur, get off the field or running path, find shade, hydrate with water and electrolyte sports drinks. Cool skin by pouring water or applying ice directly onto the skin. Rest. Seek medical attention, especially if signs of heat stroke are present. After suffering from a heat illness, you may be sensitive to reoccurrence of a similar incident for about a week afterwards. Use caution.

We are a family and not medical experts. We wanted to know more about potential issues involving heat, humidity, Florida and sports, so we researched this. Ask your doctor about heat issues or research them even more than we have. Knowledge is Power. Prevention is Key.

PS: Don’t forget the sunscreen.