What is Exertional Heat Stroke?

According to the National Athletic Trainers Association... “[Exertional Heat Stroke ] is a medical emergency.  EHS can progress to a systemic inflammatory response and multi-organ system failure unless promptly and correctly recognized and treated.”

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Exertional Heat Stroke (EHS) is characterized by neuropsychiatric impairment and a high core body temperature, typically > 40.5°C (105°F).  Plainly said, the body is overheating to the point where it can no longer regulate it’s own temperature and the nervous system is shutting down.

Heat Illness often has warning signs that can easily go unnoticed if coaches or athletic trainers are preoccupied with game-play. What starts as Heat Exhaustion (cramps, dizziness, headache, irritability, shallow breathing, nausea, etc), if left untreated, can quickly turn into Exertional Heat Stroke. Symptoms change to a pulsating headache, hot red and dry skin, absence of sweating, and potentially unconsciousness and/or convulsions.

EHS is the most serious of all heat related illnesses and, if left untreated, is potentially FATAL.  If you see signs of heat stroke, your first step is to CALL 911, then rapidly cool the athlete’s body in any way possible.  If treatment is not administered in a timely manner, serious long term health conditions will occur and possibly result in death.

Youth coaches in today’s world have a bigger than ever role to play in keeping our youth athletes safe.  In a world filled with competitive sports among children as young as 4 years old, it is more important now than ever before to teach the skills necessary to maintain good health on and off the field.

Some key things to remember for coaches and trainers:

  • Remind youth athletes to drink lots of fluids all day, starting in the morning and even the night before any planned rigorous activity.
  • Educate yourself and others on the signs of heat related illnesses.  Get a formal plan to train staff members of your organization.
  • Have an emergency plan in place that includes the right supplies be readily available.  (A shaded cooling zone, plenty of coolers filled with ice and water, circulating cold bath, blood pressure monitor, rectal thermometer, etc. consult with your health care professional for a complete list of supplies.)
  • Take necessary breaks from intense activity.  There are recommended scheduled breaks depending on how hot the outdoor temperature reads, so please consult with your local laws and guidelines to ensure you are following protocol.
  • Most of all, be aware.  Look at the athletes. Talk to them. Notice them. Make certain you are observing the behaviors on and off the field and step in when necessary.

“According to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], heat illness during practice or competition is the leading cause of death among U.S. high school athletes.”

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