The dangers of heat stroke in school athletes

August 15, 2008

As schools begin to prepare their teams for the upcoming season, they need to be aware of the dangers of heat and heat illness. While not as prevalent as it has been in past years, cases of heat stroke are still among the most dangerous things that can happen to an athlete during summer practices, according to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research.

As schools begin to prepare their teams for the upcoming season, they need to be aware of the dangers of heat and heat illness. While not as prevalent as it has been in past years, cases of heat stroke are still among the most dangerous things that can happen to an athlete during summer practices, according to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research.

The survey reports that there were an estimated 1,800,000 people participating in football during the 2007 season, at various levels, including at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels.

During the 2007 football season, there were four fatalities where football was directly related and nine where it was the indirect cause of it. The direct fatalities came at the high school level (where there were three), and one at the professional level (where there was one). There were nine indirectly fatalities, at the high school (six), college football (one), sandlot (one), and semi-professional (also one) levels.

Of the six indirect fatalities linked to high school, two were heart related, two were from heat stroke, one from an embolism and the cause of one was unknown. The college and professional deaths were both heart related, and the sandlot fatality was caused by a diabetic issue.

Between 1960 and 2007 there were 114 reported cases of heat stroke that caused a death, with a dramatic reduction in annual deaths since 1974. Since 1993, there have been 33 deaths (25 high school, five college, two professional and one sandlot) related to heat stroke.

Statistics like these can be prevented, however, by following proper precautions. When running practices during the summer, The American Football Coaches Association, The National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the National Federation of State High School Associations recommend to take the following precautions against heat stroke:

Gradually get athletes used to the heat by gradually adding more to practice for the first week, and on hot or humid days, scale practice back.

  • Regularly provide cold water in unlimited quantities to athletes.
  • Provide areas players can rest in that are shaded, with some air movement, and room for players to remove padding, helmets and jerseys.
  • Athletes should replace the salt they lose daily; by liberally adding salt to their food (sat tablets should not be provided).
  • Weight loss should be charted for athletes, by weighing themselves before and after practice, and then recording it, looking for daily weight loss at or above five percent, which can be dangerous.
  • Observe athletes for any signs of heat illness, including nausea, incoherence, cramps, weak rapid pulse, visual disturbances, and unsteadiness.
  • Have personnel on hand who can assist in treating heat illness as it happens, as well as facilities that can treat it, otherwise send the heat stricken individual to a physician.

The full report can be accessed here.