How to Stay Hydrated and Avoid These 3 Heat-Related Illnesses

Summers can be hot—and you’d probably agree that exercising in scorching temperatures can be pretty tough.

But, many growing athletes participate in summer training shortly after school lets out, so it’s important they stay hydrated and that you know the types and symptoms of heat-related illness, as they are responsible for thousands of emergency department visits from young athletes every year. 

Dehydration and heat cramps

A kid may be at risk for dehydration and heat cramps if he displays the following symptoms:

  • Thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Loss of energy

What to do: Athletes should take a break and drink water or a sports drink. Cramping muscles can be stretched and lightly massaged. Resume activity with caution only after all symptoms have cleared.

Heat exhaustion

A kid may be at risk for heat exhaustion if he displays the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Rapid pulse
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Loss of coordination
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry skin

What to do: Activity should be discontinued and the athlete should be rehydrated. If he is unable to drink water or a sports drink, transport him to a medical facility for intravenous hydration. If you are unable to check his core body temperature, he should be taken to a medical facility for hydration and monitoring.

Heat stroke 

A kid may be at risk of a heat stroke if he displays the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Irrational behavior
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dangerously high temperature (104°F and above)

What to do: Call 911 immediately. This is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires rapid cooling by immersion in an ice bath. Ice bags on the neck and groin may help if a bath is unavailable.

Hydration is key

Heat-related illness can be avoided if a growing athlete stays hydrated. Thirst is a poor indicator when determining whether a child or teen is dehydrated, so we recommend practicing the following to stay safe this summer:

  • Pre-hydrate 30 minutes before an activity. Drink until no longer thirsty, plus another 8 ounces.
  • Drink 5 ounces every 20 minutes of activity for kids and teens weighing less than 90 pounds.
  • Drink 8 ounces every 20 minutes of activity for kids and teens weighing more than 90 pounds.
  • Drink water during an activity instead of pouring it on your head or face.

Water is best for hydration if the activity lasts less than one hour, but for activities lasting longer, a fluid with carbohydrates (sugar) and electrolytes is best. Gatorade and Powerade were designed specifically for rehydration during exercise and contain the right amount of carbohydrates (about 6 to 8 percent). You may also dilute a sports drink—one part sports drink to one part water—for a better taste.

We do not recommend drinking fruit juice or soda when exercising, as they contain too much sugar for effective hydration and can cause cramping. Carbonated and caffeinated beverages may also cause bloating, and caffeine can speed up metabolism, generating more heat.

Call 404-785-KIDS (5437) or visit choa.org/sportsmed for more information.

David Marshall, MD, is a Pediatric Sports Medicine Primary Care Physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Medical Director of the Sports Medicine Program. His expertise lies in the diagnosis and management of nonsurgical musculoskeletal injuries in young athletes.

At Children’s, our Sports Medicine Program is one of the few in the country dedicated exclusively to the care of young athletes. We provide comprehensive assessment, treatment and expert advice for young athletes with injuries and conditions that affect sports performance. Our team consists of sports medicine primary care physicians, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and certified athletic trainers.

This is general information and not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about the health of a child.

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