Chapel Hill: Sports

Stay cool, and if you can’t do that, stay safe this summer

What happened to spring?

Granted, there were those three days of perfect temperatures through the pollen-infested haze of April: maybe that was it.

It seems seasonal heat doesn’t escalate in predictable increments anymore, but in jumps and starts – and with it, the progression of heat-related illnesses.

The truth is that heat-related illnesses – heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke – don’t always follow a pattern. They may get listed in worsening order, but they often progress unpredictably, necessitating all the more diligence from potential victims.

While beer and soda companies spend millions of dollars on ads telling us 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 alcoholic beverages and caffeinated sodas 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).

Those exercising should drink water or sports drinks with less than 10 percent sugar content, avoid caffeinated sodas, iced tea, and coffee, and stay away from salt tablets, diuretics, or alcohol.

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.

Children and elderly

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

“Children produce more internal heat,” LaBella pointed out. “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, noted.

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

So enjoy summer, but stay hydrated, stay cool, and stay safe. Remember: it’ll be winter again before you know it … well, after our requisite two or three days of glorious autumn.