Safety in Youth Sports: Heat-Related Illness

  Although many youth sports programs begin in tandem with the school year, in Florida, it is still a very hot, muggy time of year.  It is essential, as we send our children into the care of others while they hone their skills, that we take appropriate measures to ensure their safety.

 According to information from the Mayo Clinic, “any time children or adolescents play sports or exercise in hot weather they are at risk of heat-related illnesses.”  To ensure your child’s safety, be knowledgeable about the risk factors and what you can do to prevent them.

 The Mayo Clinic warns that children are “particularly vulnerable to dehydration and other heat-related illnesses in a hot or humid environment if he or she wears clothing or protective gear that contributes to excessive heat retention, is overweight or obese, or is sick or had a recent illness, especially involving diarrhea, vomiting or a fever,” among others.

 It is important that a child be acclimated to the heat, and most school and youth programs have, or should have, guidelines in place to do just that.  To be sure your child’s safety is the first concern, the Mayo Clinic report suggests to check that the program “requires young athletes to drink plenty of fluids before practice and during regular beverage breaks — even if they aren’t thirsty, makes sure clothing is light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting, or exposes as much of the skin as possible, and (are willing to) decrease or stop practices or competitions if necessary, or move them indoors or to a shady area,” when the heat or weather conditions are excessively hot.

You, your child and their coaches should be aware of the symptoms of dehydration and other heat-related problems.  According to the Mayo Clinic report, “left untreated, dehydration increases the risk of other heat-related illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Encourage your child to pay attention to early signs and symptoms of dehydration, including: dry or sticky mouth, thirst, headache, dizziness, cramps and excessive fatigue.”

 Children want to please their coaches and parents, and they also want to excel at their sport.  Knowing this about children and young adults, the Mayo Clinic advises the importance of reminding “your child that he or she is responsible for reporting these signs and symptoms to the coach right away. Don’t let embarrassment keep your child on the field. If dehydration is detected early, fluids and rest might be all that’s needed. If your child seems confused or loses consciousness, seek emergency care.”

 Living in Florida provides us with access to beautiful beaches, year-round outdoor activities, and countless opportunities for fun and adventure.  But it is not without the relative costs of the extra months of extremely hot temperatures and, as residents and parents, community members and leaders, we must be sure to employ every caution to keep our children safe.