I hear it over and over again this time of year:
"She seemed fine."
"He wasn't thirsty."
"She was playing just great!"
"He looked so strong."
What those parents and coaches had all missed as I pumped those young athletes with fluids while the nurses cooled down their bodies was that each and every one had heat-illness that could have been avoided if they had not only been drinking properly well before the moment of cardio-vascular collapse, i.e. fainting, but if some attention had been giving to the outside temperature, the level of activity the athletes were participating at, and the type of drinks the athletes were actually drinking before and during the events.
Tara Parker-Pope from the New York Times Health Blog experienced this very phenomenon years ago and wrote about it the other day. In fact, her language sums best what I've been seeing for years: "denial" is one of the biggest symptoms of heat-illness to be aware of, and one of the most dangerous. Researchers agree:
"Athletic researchers say one of the most frustrating aspects of heat illness is that the sufferer is often completely unaware of his or her own symptoms."
With summer basically here and our first heat wave upon us, parents, teachers and coaches must be very respectful for the heat and proactive about how kids are managed as temperatures want to soar. Kids will always want to go out side and participate in their activities. Athletes will always want to compete. It is up to us to have the judgement to pull back the reins and say "no" when the outside situation is too dangerous and to have on hand the proper equipment to keep our kids cool should we decide the outside temperatures are in a safe range. Equipment I strongly feel needs to be readily available this time of year includes:
1. ample water
2. ample sports drinks
5. spray bottles with water or sprinklers
If you don't have these items in arm's reach for our kids and athletes, you should think twice before sending them outside in the heat. And, keep in mind it doesn't take a heat wave to get over heated. Just normal summer temperatures and being active can and do bring on heat-related illnesses - just not as quickly as during a heat wave.
You may be surprised by the sports drink recommendation but that is the drink of choice for staying hydrated during sports and in the heat. Any time a person sweats, you need to replace the sugars and salts lost in the sweat. Water contains only water but sports drinks have everything else lost in sweat that a body needs to function. It is like drinking an intravenous bag. So, don't worry about the calories in sports drinks over the summer. If your kids are drinking sports drinks appropriately, the calories will replace what has been lost due to sweat and won't add to empty calories to your child. I wouldn't recommend sports drinks as a regular drink, however, but when outside playing our during sports that is the drink of choice.
So, be careful as school ends. I heard of a few kids getting in trouble around the Bay State yesterday due to the heat, including in my own town. My daughter had a migraine due to the heat and I know of a child who fainted just by being outside during the heat wave. So, we have to be cautious. Part of the problem is many of our schools are not air conditioned so the kids do not catch a break when inside from the heat. We need to consider that, too, when an extreme heatwave breaks out.
Once school ends, be your child's advocate if the temperatures skyrocket and you see activities not curtailed. Ask the program directors what their heat plans are - good programs have them. I was talking to my daughter's camp yesterday and asked what they do during a heat wave and without missing a beat they had an answer. That was reassuring to hear. And, the answer did include "if the temperature is just too high, we keep the kids inside - just not worth the risk."
For more information on keeping your kids well hydrated during sports, click here.