Chapel Hill: Sports

July 14, 2014

Heat and humidity a dangerous dance

The truth is that any heat-related illness – heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke – can arrive and escalate in insidious secrecy.

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

– Verbal (Kevin Spacey) in 1995’s “The Uusual Suspects”

Indeed, some of the greatest dangers in the world come giftwrapped in pretty packages or unannounced altogether.

Certainly, among the most damaging illnesses are those which, by their nature, trick us into thinking that we are healthy, that everything’s just fine.

Heat is such a duplicitous friend, testing either our complacency or our hubris, especially when accompanied by North Carolina’s humidity. The truth is that any heat-related illness – heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke – can arrive and escalate in insidious secrecy.

While the classes of heat-related illnesses are often listed in worsening order, they sometimes progress out of order and according to no predictable schedule, necessitating all the more diligence by observers and all the more caution by potential victims.

Another misconception is that popping salt tablets Tic-Tacs – a belief held just a couple of decades ago – can stave off cramps or wooziness. The Red Cross now warns against taking salt tablets, because such a high concentration of salt may actually worsen the condition.

While beer and soda companies would love to have us believe that their products quench the toughest summer thirsts, experts say the best beverage on hot days is also the least expensive: water. The truth is that liquids with alcohol in them or caffeinated sodas can cause further dehydration, making conditions worse.

The risk of dehydration due to physical activity in the heat can be greatly reduced with about 2.5 cups of fluid two hours before beginning activity and about two cups 10-15 minutes right before exertion; during exercise, drink up to one cup every 15 minutes. After exercise, drink until you have returned to your normal weight (16 oz. of fluid for every pound lost).

Drink water or sports drinks with less than 10 percent sugar content. Do not drink caffeinated beverages like soda, iced tea, coffee, etc., and don’t take salt tablets, diuretics, or alcohol.

Send Us a Sign

According to and the American Red Cross, heat-related illnesses fall generally into the following three basic classifications, noted as follows along with recommended actions:

• Heat Cramps

Symptoms: Single or multiple muscle cramps.

What To Do: If cramping is in multiple muscles, seek medical attention. Place victim at rest in a cool environment, provide a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes (with a teaspoon of salt per quart), or a commercial sports drink (e.g. Gatorade). Lightly stretch the affected muscle, replenish fluids and watch for improvement.

• Heat Exhaustion

Symptoms: Victim is extremely sweaty, has cold or clammy skin, a mildly elevated temperature, pale color, dizziness, weak or rapid pulse, shallow breathing, nausea, headache, or unconsciousness.

What To Do: Stop all physical activity and move the victim immediately to a cool place out of the sun, preferably a cool, air-conditioned location. Hydrate and lay down with feet slightly elevated. Loosen clothing, and supply cold (but not iced), slightly-salty water or a commercial sports drink, provided in half-glass increments every 15 minutes. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention.

• Heat Stroke

Symptoms: A life-threatening condition marked by a hot body with a core temperature as high as 104 degrees F, red or flushed skin color, rapid or strong pulse, difficulty breathing, mental status changes.

What To Do: Simply moving the individual experiencing heat stroke to a cooler place is not enough to reverse the overheating. Emergency medical assistance should be called immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, take quick action to lower body temperature. Loosen clothing and allow air to circulate around the body. Immerse the victim in a cool bath or wrap the victim in wet towels or clothing, and place ice packs in areas with the greatest blood supply (neck, underneath arms and knees, and groin). If the victim refuses water, is vomiting, or if there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give them anything to eat or drink.

One for the ages

Children and the elderly are most at risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses, adult and pediatric sports medicine specialist Cynthia LaBella writes for the Center for Athletic Medicine website (

“Exposure to excessive heat and humidity poses special problems for young athletes,” LaBella points out. “Children produce more internal heat. They also have a higher surface-area to body weight ratio, which means they absorb more heat from the environment, and their sweating capacity is less.”

Parents need to be especially alert to dehydration and the development of problems in infants who can’t speak up and ask for something to drink, notes. Parents should take the initiative.

“The elderly can also be more susceptible to the heat due to the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases or the intake of like diuretic medicines common for controlling blood pressure,” LaBella adds.

This dance out

It’s said the devil has the power to assume a pleasing shape, but sometimes, it might assume no shape or form to begin with, devilishly convincing us that danger doesn’t exist. Given the gravity of a minor misstep then, perhaps it’s sometimes simply better not to dance with the devil to begin with.

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