The Heat is ON! Playing Summer Youth Sports Safely

It’s that time of year…we’ve seen extreme temperatures all over the country these past few years, and even in Orange County, an area with moderate temperatures, kids are at risk for heat-related illnesses. As a hospital-based pediatrician, I often see the results of this dangerous condition. Especially when temperatures fluctuate, young athletes can have a tougher time adjusting to the hotter temperatures, making them inefficient at staying cool while playing sports. Is it at this time of year I appreciate my kids playing ice sports the most!

Heat-related illnesses are the second most common type of sports injury in young athletes, and the third leading cause of death in high school athletes- and they’re entirely preventable! As coaches, parents, and players, we must be able to recognize and quickly treat these potentially life-threatening conditions.

Signs of Dehydration and Heat Illness


Dehydration is a significant risk factor for heat-related illnesses.

Signs and symptoms

  • Dry mouth, thirst, headache
  • Cramps
  • Moderate fatigue
  • Mild dizziness

What to do?

  • Move the athlete to a shaded or air-conditioned area
  • Give him/her fluids to drink

When is it OK to go back to play?

An athlete may return to play when he/she is symptom-free. However, it is essential that an adult continues to supervise this child.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a moderate heat-related illness which occurs when a player continues to play in the heat even after experiencing some ill effects, like dehydration or cramps.

Signs and symptoms

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of coordination, significant dizziness
  • Headache, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Rapid pulse
  • Feeling chilly

What to do?

  • Move the child to a cool, shaded area
  • Place cold towels on him/her
  • Have him/her drink water or a sports drink with electrolytes
  • Place athlete lying down with his/her legs elevated to improve circulation

Condition should improve quickly, otherwise, suspect heat stroke

When is it OK to go back to play?

An athlete may return to play after heat exhaustion when symptoms have resolved but should avoid practice in intense heat for at least 24 hours. He/she should be cleared for practice by a physician or health care provider.

Heat Stroke

Exertional Heat Stroke is a medical emergency! It can lead to permanent organ damage and even death; it is essential we recognize it quickly and treat it appropriately. The key is to cool the body rapidly.

Signs and symptoms

  • Very high core body temperature (rectal temperature over 104oF)
  • Altered mental function (confusion, unconsciousness, altered mental status, extreme lethargy).
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Suspect in an otherwise healthy athlete who collapses during intense exercise in the heat.

It is important to distinguish that athletes get better relatively quickly from heat exhaustion, but they get worse with heat stroke.

What to do?

  • Seek medical attention immediately! Have someone call for paramedics, but do not delay treatment! Quickly begin cooling measures (ice bath, ice packs, cold, wet, towels, even water spray or fans).
  • Do not provide fluids immediately as nausea and vomiting are extremely common in heat stroke.

When is it OK to go back to play?

No athlete who has suffered from heat stroke should be allowed to return to play until thoroughly evaluated by his/her physician or health care professional and cleared with specific return-to-play instructions. Athletes should return to play slowly, under adult supervision.

What can we do to prevent heat-related illnesses from affecting our young athletes?

  • Young athletes should drink throughout the day; they should drink at least 16 ounces 2 hours before practice.
  • During practice, they should continue to have regular water breaks every 30 minutes and drink 8-12 ounces of water during each break.
  • In extreme heat, players should drink a sports drink for adequate electrolyte replacement.
  • Players should wear loose, light-colored clothing if possible, and only necessary additional gear.
  • Have someone, other than the coach, in charge of monitoring players for signs of dehydration, muscle cramping, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • If a player feels weak, dizzy, nauseous or lightheaded, notify the coach immediately!

Hope you all have a fun and safe summer!


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