High school athletes practicing for fall sports are the season’s at-risk population for heat related injuries, according to medical staff at Conway Regional Health System.

Dr. Stephen Hudson, specialist in emergency medicine at Conway Regional’s Emergency Room, said that two Greenbrier football players that overheated during practice were under his care Tuesday.

“Almost every year at this time we see athletes who have gone back to football. Here in the ER we have two from Greenbrier High, even as we speak, with heat related symptoms,” Hudson said. “They get behind on their hydration. We see a large percentage of this. They’ve been inside all summer and then the coaches get them outside running.”

According to Stephen Wood, Greenbrier athletic director, the two players experienced excessive cramping during and after football practice. 

“One of them went ahead to the hospital and one didn’t, then he cramped up after practice and ended up in the hospital, too,” Wood said.

Wood said the athletic department had preventative measures in place to ensure the safety of the athletes.

“We were originally starting practice at 8 a.m. Now we’re starting at 7:30. We’ve shortened our practice and cut out conditioning. We’ve done a lot of things, but it’s still so hot out there. We’re going to discuss other things to do because it is so hot. It’s tough to keep these kids hydrated, and we’ve been preaching to them, telling them to drink as much fluids as they can,” Wood said. “Coach Tribble told me they took a 25-minute break to sit in the shade and rest, cut out conditioning at the end of practice and this still happened.”

According to Wood, one player had been discharged from the hospital early Tuesday afternoon, and the other was still receiving medical care.

Steve Daniels, Conway athletic director, said that the high school football program has designed a practice schedule that would keep players out of excessive temperatures.

“We’re working in the mornings and not bringing them back in the afternoon. We have the Conway Fire Department sending people over to monitor the high school practices every day. We’re providing Gatorade and water for players whenever they want it. They’re taking a lot of breaks,” Daniels said.

Daniels said pre-season conditioning has acclimated athletes prior to practice.

“They’re also in pretty good shape showing up. They’ve been exposed already to quite a bit of workouts during the summer months,” Daniels said. “We met as a staff and talked about how hot it is and how we can take care of our athletes. Not just in football, but in all of our sports, even volleyball. I’ve talked with our band director, Tim Cunningham, and we’ve made the gym available to get them out of the heat as well. All areas are a concern, and we’re very aware and we’re taking whatever measures we can to take care of these athletes.”

According to Hudson, early signs of overheating are associated with heat stress.
“This is where you feel you are too hot, sweat excessively and usually this is treated on your own by drinking and getting cool. When we get involved, the core temperature is somewhere less than 104 degrees. Then people are moving into significant dehydration.”

Hudson said that at this stage of heat exhaustion, vomiting prevents hydration, and headache and fatigue set in.

“When people get dry enough, they become confused. They move on to heat stroke with a core temperature of greater than 105. They’ve moved through sweating and dehydration to where their brain’s temperature control mechanism is totally overwhelmed. They become confused, then comatose, and those are the ones that tend to die,” Hudson said.

Since Aug. 1, Conway Regional’s emergency services have treated 19 heat related injuries, according to John Patton, marketing coordinator for CRMS. Eight were between the ages of 14 and 18 years old. Patton said that the rest of the patients treated were between 20 to 80 years old. 

Hudson said other populations at risk of heat related injury or death are in the extremes of age, infants and the elderly.

The typical treatment, Hudson said, is to drink plenty of fluids prior to outdoor activities, and to seek air conditioning when the body begins to feel overheated.
“You can drink enough water that you will sweat, and you could potentially lose your sodium. Electrolyte drinks like Gatorade are the way to go.”

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)