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When It’s T-o-o-o-o-o Hot!

As we are all aware, the late summer months can become quite warm, creating uncomfortable and even — at times — dangerous playing conditions. Learning to properly prepare for the warm weather and avoid heat-related injury is an important skill for players, coaches and parents.

Body temperature results from a balance between heat production and heat loss. Our bodies produce heat as a result of burning food and producing energy. In addition, when the temperature of the environment exceeds our body temperature, such as during a hot summer day, heat is also taken in from the surrounding air. Our bodies lose heat through the skin and the lungs. The human body is quite good at regulating its internal temperature. The temperature control center lies within the area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. When the internal body temperature rises, this thermal center causes blood vessels in the body to dilate and increases our rate of sweating. The dilated blood vessels allow heat to escape by convection while sweating allows heat to leave by evaporation.

Body temperature increases when heat production is in excess of heat loss. Hyperthermia, or an abnormally high body temperature, can occur when the ability of the temperature center to lose heat is overwhelmed. This may occur in the absence of any activity with both high temperatures and high humidity limiting our bodies’ ability to lose heat through convection or evaporation. When a hard-fought soccer game, which requires the body to burn a lot of fuel, is added to the hot and humid day, the situation is worsened. Hyperthermia is an inevitable occurrence during prolonged, intense exercise during a warm, humid day.

Most soccer players experience some degree of hyperthermia during a match played in warm weather, yet it usually occurs without symptoms. In certain circumstances, though, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke may occur. Preventing these complications requires astute coaching and responsible parenting. Coaches must condition their players throughout the cooler months and particularly during warmer months, by increasing the amount of sustained cardiovascular activity. One popular way of accomplishing this is to slowly increase laps run on a track over the course of weeks to months. Other activities that produce similar results are acceptable.

During the summer months, players should wear light-colored clothing (black/dark blue uniforms should be saved for the cooler months) and must take in large and constant amounts of water, especially during the match. Water breaks, other than at halftime, should be required during games played under excessively hot conditions. League administrators and tournament directors should insist on such a rule. Even if we take these precautions, exercise can be hazardous during the summer. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends canceling competitions when the temperature exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit and Association presidents should establish certain guidelines to address play during hot weather.

Heat-related medical conditions generally can be divided into three stages: muscle cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. When symptoms such as muscle cramps occur, most of the time they respond well to rest and cool oral fluids. Heat exhaustion usually begins with fatigue and later progresses to light-headedness, nausea, vomiting and headache. During this stage, an increased heart and breathing rate as well as profuse sweating may be noticed. Players experiencing these symptoms should be removed from the remainder of the game, taken into a cool environment and given fluids. While mild cases may respond to local treatment, others may require intravenous fluids and should be evaluated by a physician.

Heatstroke is characterized by a high body temperature and neurological symptoms. Individuals experiencing heatstroke often have a sudden alteration in brain function, such as a sudden loss of consciousness, with little or no warning. Individuals may also be irritable, combative, or hallucinate. Lack of sweating is not an absolute finding. This situation is a true emergency. Persons experiencing such symptoms should be brought immediately to a hospital emergency room. On the way to a medical facility, individuals should be taken into a cool environment and his/her clothing removed. Cooling, by applying cool or iced water to the entire skin surface by sponging or splashing, followed by fanning either by hand or mechanical means, must be undertaken immediately. Despite medical attention, this condition is deadly and nearly 40 percent of persons do not survive.

Simple preventative measures can avoid temperature-related injury. If preventative measures fail and heat-associated symptoms occur in an individual, we all should be able to administer prompt and appropriate action.


 
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