Heat Illness Safety

Heat Illness

Athletes who play and practice in hot environments are at risk of heat stress. Heat stress can result in a spectrum of disorders ranging from mild, such as heat rashes and heat cramps, worsening to more serious conditions of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.


Impact of Heat Stroke

Watch this video on NFL player Korey Stringer, and high school players Will James and Tyler Davenport, each who suffered a heat stroke during football practice, with only one surviving.



Fast Facts

  • High school athletes, especially males, are at the highest risk of suffering exertional heat illness requiring treatment in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov.
  • 31 high school football players died of heat stroke complications between 1995 and 2009. Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, 1931-2009
  • 64.7 percent of football players sustaining a heat illness were either overweight or obese. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heat illness among high school athletes — United States, 2005-2009. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2010
  • Exertional heat stroke has proven to be 100 percent survivable when immediately recognized and aggressively cooled on site. Korey Stringer Institute. http://ksi.uconn.edu. | University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Research Center. www.iprc.unc.edu
  • The number of heat-related injuries from 1997 to 2006 increased 133 percent. Youth accounted for the largest proportion of heat-related injuries at 47.6 percent. Exertional heat-related injuries treated in emergency departments in the U.S., 1997-2006. Am J Prev Med. 2011
  • Two-thirds of kids show up for practice at least significantly dehydrated. Children participation in summer soccer camps are chronically dehydrated. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004

What are Heat Related Illnesses?

Heat Stroke:

The Center for Disease Control  describes heat stroke as the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.


Symptoms of heat stroke include:
  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Throbbing headache
  • High body temperature
  • Confusion/dizziness
  • Slurred speech

Emergency Treatment

Take the following steps to treat an athlete with heat stroke:
  • Call 911 and notify their supervisor.
  • Move the sick athlete to a cool shaded area.
  • Cool the athlete using methods such as:
    • Soaking their clothes with water.
    • Spraying, sponging, or showering them with water.
    • Fanning their body.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. With heat exhaustion, your body temperature rises as high as 104 F (40 C) and you may experience nausea, vomiting, headache, fainting, weakness, and cold, clammy skin. If left untreated, this can lead to heatstroke.


Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
  • Heavy sweating
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness, confusion
  • Nausea
  • Clammy, moist skin
  • Pale or flushed complexion
  • Muscle cramps
  • Slightly elevated body temperature
  • Fast and shallow breathing

Emergency Treatment

Treat an athlete suffering from heat exhaustion with the following:
  • Have them rest in a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area.
  • Have them drink plenty of water or other cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Have them take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.

Heat Syncope

Heat syncope is a fainting (syncope) episode or dizziness that usually occurs with prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position. Factors that may contribute to heat syncope include dehydration and lack of acclimatization.


Symptoms of heat syncope include:
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting


Athletes with heat syncope should:
  • Sit or lie down in a cool place when they begin to feel symptoms.
  • Slowly drink water, clear juice, or a sports beverage.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps usually affect athletes who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.


Muscle pain or spasms usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs.


Athletes with heat cramps should:
  • Stop all activity, and sit in a cool place.
  • Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.
  • Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Seek medical attention if any of the following apply:
    • The athlete has heart problems.
    • The athlete is on a low-sodium diet.
    • The cramps do not subside within one hour.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.


Symptoms of heat rash include:
  • Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters.
  • It is more likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.


Athletes experiencing heat rash should:
  • Try to practice in a cooler, less humid environment when possible.
  • Keep the affected area dry.
  • Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort.


 Check out this video from ABC News Good Morning America on tips for preventing heat related illnesses.

ABC US News | ABC Business News


Coaches and parents should take the following steps to protect athletes from heat stress:


Training: Ensure coaches, staff, and athletes are being trained in proper safe procedures for heat illness (and other sports related injuries such as concussions and overuse injuries). If coaches have not completed courses on how to prevent heat illness, involve other parents and school officials to advocate for training. As a start, the CDC offers a free training course on Heat Related Illness Prevention.

Form a Committee: Get together with other parents and form a safety committee to conduct regular safety meetings at practices and games to talk about heat illness and other injury risks
to other parents and athletes in order to promote safe behaviors and play techniques . Encourage students to speak up when they are showing signs of heat illness rather than keeping quiet. Hand out informational materials , such as fact sheets on symptoms of heat related illnesses to help with early detection.

Be an Expert. Don’t solely rely on the knowledge of coaches or other parents when making decisions for your child.  Know the facts, so that you can accurately identify signs of heat illness and how to respond if your child begins to show signs of heat stress. Don’t leave it up to the coach to determine when you child is removed from the game due to injuries.   

Tips for Prevention
  • Pace activity. Make sure your child starts activities slow and picks up the pace gradually.
  • Acclimatize your child by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot environments.
  • Provide cool water or liquids to your child for practices and games.
    • Avoid alcohol, and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
  • Ensure that your child is taking adequate breaks in a cool shady area.
  • Make sure your child is wearing lightweight, loose fitting clothing.


Get Trained! Make sure you learn the basics of heat related illnesses, the risks, symptoms, and how to respond if an athlete shows signs of heat stress. Don’t know where to start? The CDC offers a free training course on
Heat Related Illness Prevention.

Educate Parents: You are not alone in your desire to implement safe play. Get other parents involved! See if some parents are willing to form a safety committee to educate other parents on safe play and techniques as well as to hand out informational materials at practices and games.

Monitor the Health of your Athletes: Below are some tips for preventing heat stress in youth athletes:
  • Schedule practices for the cooler part of the day.
  • Pace activity. Start activities slow and pick up the pace gradually.
  • Acclimatize athletes by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot environments.
  • Reduce the physical demands of athletes.
  • Rotate athletes in and out of play.
  • Provide cool water or liquids to athletes.
    • Avoid alcohol, and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
  • Provide rest periods with water breaks.
  • Provide cool areas for use during break periods.
  • Monitor athletes who are at risk of heat stress.
  • Provide heat stress training that includes information about:
    • Risk
    • Prevention
    • Symptoms
    • The importance of monitoring yourself and teammates for symptoms
    • Treatment
    • Personal protective equipment
  Promote a Safety First Attitude: Look for ways to emphasize safe play. Take kids out of practice or the game with any signs of injury. Reinforce speaking up when hurt and discourage other athletes from teasing teammates for sitting out due to an injury.  

Additional Resources

Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/
Korey Stringer Institute: http://ksi.uconn.edu/
Arkansas Department of Health: http://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programsServices/hsLicensingRegulation/EmsandTraumaSystems/Pages/EHI.aspx 



In The News

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Heat hurts your insides too

A proposed new law calls for certification of youth football coaches


This information does not offer medical advice or make any medical claims. Nothing contained in this information is intended to constitute professional advice for medical diagnosis or treatment. 
Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding concussions or other youth injuries.