By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- It’s still hot and humid. Young athletes are still very susceptible to heat illness in football. Be on the lookout for signs and take immediate action
- Allow rest breaks with the helmet removed as often as possible
- Recognize signs of heat illness and take immediate action if heat illness is suspected
It’s September now but the heat is definitely still on, it’s still summer. The combination of heat and humidity seen in some parts of the country can be particularly dangerous.
In the past decade, 31 football players have died of heat-related illnesses in the United States, according to an annual study by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. Fifty-two players have died since 1995. Forty-one of those deaths occurred at the high school level.
They are all especially tragic, experts say, because each one was 100 percent preventable.
We ask that coaches and trainers pay particular attention to signs of heat illness in July and August when preseason training typically starts but the current weather conditions in September are potentially dangerous too. Don’t let down your guard just because the boys have had a few weeks to acclimate and school has started.
Follow The NATA’s Recommendations
The National Athletic Trainer’s Association has published excellent guidelines on heat illness in young football players. Here’s what they write on their website:
“The NATA’s Age Specific Task Force recommends that all young players be permitted to remove their helmets during rest breaks during both practices and games, as well as in-between periods and at halftime. With the football helmet on at all times in hot and humid weather, the body core temperature can increase to a greater extent and may play a role in the development of an exertional heat illness. Combining proper hydration, rest and the removal of the helmet for a period of time assists in the reduction of core body temperature and reduces the risk of developing a heat illness.”
Have a plan of action for preventing heat illness, recognize signs of heat illness, and take early action if heat illness is suspected
I’m a huge believer that most preventive strategies must have a clear plan of attack put in place before the start of the season. Even if you haven’t done that you can still take steps now to make sure the few remaining hot and humid weeks are as safe as possible.
- I’m hoping you have a plan in place from the preseason to put appropriate rest breaks in for the players, with helmets off as recommended by the NATA.
- Recognize signs of heat illness, as we’ve outlined in several previous blog posts. The NATA and other reputable organizations also have resources available to help coaches and parents recognize heat illness.
- Decreased performance
- Skin that ranges from pale or sweaty to cool and clammy. If the skin is hot it’s a red flag!
- Possibly irritable
- May have difficulty paying attention or following directions.
Take immediate action if mild heat illness is suspected
- Get the athlete off the field and let him lie down in a cool, shaded place.
- Elevate the legs above the level of the head.
- Provide a sports drink (not carbonated, no caffeine).
- Remove helmet, pads, and any tight fitting clothing and remove socks.
- If the player doesn’t start to feel better within 10-15 minutes, seek medical help.
- Prevent future dehydration with a good hydration strategy.
- Heat stroke (a much more severe form of heat illness, in which the athlete’s core temperature rises dangerously high and body system shut down takes place) is a medical emergency. These athletes may be unresponsive and look in serious trouble. For coaches and parents who are not expected to be medically trained, your best course of action is to call 911 or local emergency personnel immediately. Remove the athlete’s pads and helmet, start cooling immediately and as well as you can with ice packs to the neck, armpits, and groin.