Each year, student-athletes die heatstroke during high school sports practices or competitions. Almost 10,000 student-athletes suffer from heat-related illnesses that cause them to miss at least one day of training and can have negative health consequences throughout their lives. In fact, heat sickness is the leading cause of death and disability among high school athletes in the United States. It is certainly true in Texas.
August is right around the corner, and Texas student-athletes are gearing up for preseason training. The Texas University Interscholastic League, the state agency overseeing high school sports in Texas, must step up its preparation requirements and preventative guidelines. Without an action plan, unnecessary injuries and deaths will continue to occur.
The searing heat, high humidity and relentless sunlight in Texas are a Deadly Combination which cause rash, cramps, fainting, exhaustion, tachycardia, confusion and possibly heat stroke. In its most severe form, heat illness can lead to neurological damage, muscle breakdown and multi-organ failure leading to death.
Unless additional safeguards are implemented, deaths and injuries will likely increase significantly in 2022 due to the record temperatures. Currently, UIL provides a minimum of advice and recommendations to mitigate risk. In fact, according to the University of Connecticut 2022 State High School Safety Policy AssessmentTexas ranks 21st in implementing best practices to ensure the safety of high school student-athletes, mark only 7 points out of 20 for the thematic area “Heat stroke on exertion”. For example, there are no guidelines for heat acclimatization regarding training times and pace of heat exposure or the types of workouts or amount of equipment that can be worn while training. completely safe.
Like acclimatization to high altitudes, such as in Colorado, heat acclimatization can take a long time. In August, when most heatstroke occurs, it’s likely because children have spent a lot of time indoors in their air-conditioned homes over the summer. It suddenly becomes a potential disaster when you send a child into the scorching August heat. It is possible to suffer from heatstroke even at temperatures below 100 degrees if we do not give our body enough time to adapt.
Additionally, Texas also scored zeros in the 2022 assessment for “environmental modifications.” A cold water immersion bucket, warm water ventilator, acetaminophen, and an ambulance ready are all recommended preparedness measures and Texas does not require them.
All student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and parents need formal and mandatory education to identify telltale markers of heat stroke on the pitch, in the locker room and at home. Profuse sweating, hot, dry skin, thirst, exhaustion, shortness of breath, elevated heart rate, confusion, and flu-like symptoms, such as headache, body aches, and nausea, should be addressed immediately with no punitive results for the athlete.
An organization buddy system so that student-athletes can watch for signs of illness or injury during training or competition can save lives. Frequent breaks in the waterevery 30 minutes, and planning workouts and exercises based on level of exertion will also go a long way in preventing heat-related illnesses and injuries.
Heatstroke and heat-related illnesses are preventable and can be avoided entirely. To keep our high school athletes safe and engaged, we need to implement more rigorous measures to reduce risk.
Dr. Sujan Gogu is a Triple Board Certified Physician in Family Medicine, Sports Medicine, and Pain Medicine who practices in the Rio Grande Valley. He lives in Edinburgh, Texas. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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