Yeah, You’re Hot: Avoiding heat exhaustion

It’s summer, and it’s super hot outside. As athletes, we’re used to pushing through tough practices and games. It doesn’t matter if we’re injured or getting over an illness. We will push through because we don’t want to let down our teams. While heat may not seem like a big deal, allowing yourself to keep playing through extreme conditions and ignoring warning signs could could put your health at serious risk.

Recently, some of my teammates and I went to a skate clinic in a warehouse without air conditioning. Since our clinic was going to last several hours during the hottest part of the day, the trainer gathered us around a sign that listed the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion signs and symptoms include:

  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heavy sweating often accompanied by cold, clammy skin
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Pale or flushed face
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache
  • Weakness or fatigue

(Source: The Mayo Clinic)

Even though I had hydrated, the odds were stacked against me that day. Sweating constantly, not getting enough sleep, and being on my cycle did me no favors. Everything in me said to keep going, but I could feel my reaction time slowing and my vision beginning to blur. Even thinking became difficult. I pulled off. It was frustrating to spend the last bit of the clinic off skates, but I know it was best for my health.

In derby, we don’t always have the best pick of practice and bout venues or the best times to hold them. Since cancelling isn’t really an option, this is a compilation of research to help you and your team stay safe.

Hydration: Exactly how much water you should drink varies a bit depending on your size. Most experts agree you should drink all the waterconsume one half and one whole ounce of water for each pound of body weight every day.

Acclimation: If you know you are going to be practicing or bouting in a hot space, give yourself about 10 days to acclimate yourself. You could start with some light jogging during a hot part of the day, next try skating geared up for a short amount of time, gradually increase the amount of time and distance on skates. Listen to your body during this time. If you start to feel dizzy, stop. Try again tomorrow. (Source: University Interscholastic League)

Clothing: Make sure to wear breathable materials that allow for sweat to evaporate. Light and loose materials tend to be best. My hockey helmet makes me pour sweat, so I usually bring a few bandannas to wear under it at practice. I’ll switch them out as they get soaked.

So you’ve taken all the right measures to stay hydrated and keep your body cool, but sometimes, just like for me in Atlanta, the odds are stacked against you. Some medications or health conditions can also put you at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

  • Medications. Anything that narrows your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulates your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), rids your body of sodium and water (diuretics), or reduces psychiatric symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics).
  • Stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) make you more vulnerable to heatstroke.
  • Health conditions. Certain chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung disease, might increase your risk of heatstroke.

(Source: Mayo Clinic)

Make sure to talk to your doctor about your training regime before starting new medications.

ice pack placement

If you notice a player starts looking rough, have her sit down and take off her helmet. Heat escapes through the top of the head, so this will help to cool her down. You can bring her core temperature back down by placing ice packs on her neck, under each armpit, and on her groin. (Source: The Mayo Clinic)

Even if you aren’t approaching a heat stroke, an ice pack, cooling towel, or cloth dipped in ice water on the back of the neck between jams feels amazing. I’ve used these during hot bouts and practices, and it’s the next best thing to A/C.

For junior derby players, the Centers for Disease Control recommend they drink water before exercise and every 20 to 30 minutes during exercise. After about an hour of skating, give them something with electrolytes.

Call for medical help immediately if a player isn’t responding well, especially if she stops sweating, slurs her speech or seems confused. Heat stroke can take a toll on your brain and other major internal organs. It isn’t something to ignore.

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