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Health Tips for Parents

2006 Issues

How safe is it to exercise in intense heat?

Children and teenagers are at increased risk for dehydration (lack of adequate body water) and heat illness. Fortunately, heat injury—illness resulting from excessive exercise in high temperatures and humidity—is one sports injury that can almost always be prevented with proper attention to safety and common sense, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which provides the following information in its “Sports Shorts” publication.

The three most common types of heat injury include:
• Heat cramps—painful contractions of the muscles, usually in the legs. Stop exercising, gently massage the muscle, and drink plenty of fluids.
• Heat exhaustion—high body temperature (up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit), weakness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, confusion, and fainting. Stop exercise; either sit or lie down, and cool down (fanning, cool towels, ice bags, move to shaded or air-conditioned area) and drink fluids. If symptoms do not subside quickly, get the athlete to an emergency room right away.
• Heat stroke—a life-threatening emergency caused by extremely high body temperatures (often higher than 107 degrees Fahrenheit). Athletes can have seizures or go into shock or a coma. Get to an emergency room immediately.

Some common-sense rules:
• Fluids—Drinking fluids before and during exercise is the most important way to prevent heat injury. Athletes need to drink four to eight ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during activity; an athlete may become dehydrated before he or she feels thirsty. Plain water is the best drink for most athletes. Offering flavored water or an appropriate sport drink (check with your pediatrician) may encourage a young athlete to drink more. Carbonated drinks, fruit juices, and soda are not good choices.
• Environment—When temperatures are higher than 80 degrees, especially when the humidity is higher than 70 percent, it is harder for the body to control heat. Direct sunlight and hot, humid winds can also increase risk. During periods of excess heat and humidity, parents and coaches should stop practices or competitions. Moving practices indoors or to a shady area can help prevent heat injury.
• Clothing—Clothing should be lightweight and expose as much skin as possible for evaporation of sweat. Wearing a hat can also help. Always use sunscreen.
• Acclimatization—The first one to two weeks of practice in hot, humid weather should start light and gradually increase in intensity.
• Medical conditions—Any ill child should avoid exercise in hot, humid conditions until the illness is completely gone. Children with chronic conditions (diabetes, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease) should talk to their doctor about maintaining hydration. Certain medications (such as cold medications) interfere with body heat regulation.
• Be alert—When a player feels confused, dizzy, nauseated, sleepy, or ill during exercise in hot, humid weather, heat illness should be considered. Have the child cool down and start drinking right away. If you do not see a quick recovery, get the child to an emergency room. It could save a child’s life.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare web site at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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