Heat stroke is no joke. It’s a rare, yet life-threatening condition that is preventable. With pre-season football’s high-intensity, 3-a-day practices starting next week, I wanted to get down to the facts about heat illness.
Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR’s Jasen Sokol about this topic. We discussed the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and what to do if your athlete becomes unresponsive. Remember, cool them first and then call for transport.
Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion. Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on July 23, 2014.
We’re getting close to 2-a-day practices for the football players and that means that heat stroke’s gonna come into play.
DR. CONGENI: Yeah, Jasen. How are you doing? Yeah, we’re about a week away, as you said, and everybody’s chomping at the bit. Gosh, 2-a-days, what are you talking about? We’re up to 3-a-days now. We’ve gotta get these teams in better shape now. You know how coaches are … as everybody has to work with their athletes. But, you know, we have done some studies to see what’s safest for kids.
In the last week, all of our high-school trainers were in and did all their preparation to get ready for any of those catastrophic things that can occur on the field.
Yesterday, there was a report of a kid from the University of Illinois who, um, had a sudden cardiac death up there. So, those kinds of things do happen and the training staffs have to be ready.
Right after I’m done with you here, we’re going over to Akron U and meeting with the first responders, too. The firefighters and EMS units are all getting ready for the season, too, so it’s not just the teams getting ready.
One of the things this time of year, Jasen, you mentioned it, is heat problems, heat illness, especially heat stroke. Heat stroke is the thing that athletes die from. So as far as heat, it’s like anything else, it’s a continuum.
You start out getting heat cramps, later on heat exhaustion, but our body’s fantastic at dealing with it. It has a really good cooling system. Very, very occasionally, and rarely, Jasen, the body can’t keep up with this cooling mechanism; the body’s cooling mechanism gets short circuited and people go into what’s called heat stroke.
And when people go into heat stroke, they become confused and irrational, and they have mental changes, but their, um, temperature also goes up very rapidly. So, generally, when these people have heat illness, their [temperature’s] still around 99, 100, 101. When they get into heat stroke, they go up to 105 (degrees). They are in life-threatening situation territory there.
And the biggest thing that they’re saying this year … is to cool the kids first, cool the victims first, then transport them later.
One mistake that people have made — and every year a few kids die from heat illness in this country and it’s tremendously sad because it’s completely preventable — [is not cooling] the kid first. Don’t just find the phone, call 9-1-1, wait 7 or 8 minutes for the transport unit [to come]. Get them cooled first.
So, most of the schools have a kiddie pool or big barrels of ice water. Submerse the kid in that cold water and cool them first before you transport them because that can be life-saving.
SOKOL: Now, is that the best way to do it if somebody does have a heat stroke, just take ‘em from being at that 105 temperature to dropping ‘em in the ice bucket right away? That seems like that’d be a big plunge.
DR. CONGENI: It’s a big plunge. These people are out of it, though. They’re not [talking to you].
You know, they’re sitting there talking to you when they have heat cramps or when they have heat exhaustion, that’s most of heat illness. But when they have heat stroke, they’re out of it and you want to dump them in.
Those baby pools [are probably best]. Just picking those up and keeping them filled with water and dumping ‘em in — as much of the body as they can — to get that temperature down rapidly. That’s really what’s preventative.
These things have all been studied really closely. There’s an institute in the country, Jasen, called the Korey Stringer Institute. You may remember the lineman from the (Minnesota) Vikings.
DR. CONGENI: His family and friends from the NFL put a lot of money into studying heat illness. One of the big things they did last year was looking at acclimatization. So as far as high school athletes, who we were talking about earlier, they start very gradually.
So next week, they’ll have 2 days where they go just helmets only, and then 2 days, helmets and shoulder pads. That acclimatization period is really important over 5 days.
Athletes really get used to that heat fairly quickly, and after the first week or 2, we’re usually out of the woods. If these things occur, they usually occur in the first week. And, I really want all those sports medicine teams and athletes to be ready for that heat.
One other thing is there’s what’s called stragglers. There are a lot of kids, you know, who were sick or they had an injury and they missed the first few days. And, they go directly into practicing with the rest of the team without that acclimatization period that the OHSAA (Ohio High School Athletic Association) built in a couple years ago.
So watch out for the stragglers. Don’t make them exercise 2-a-days, 3-a-days right off the bat. Have them build up over 5 days just like the rest of your athletes.
SOKOL: Yeah, it’s very important. Dr. Congeni, just about out of time, thanks for being with us.
DR. CONGENI: Jasen, great job this week, and thanks for all you do in the community.
SOKOL: Alright. Dr. Joe Congeni on 1590 WAKR.