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Heading Off Heat Illness

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By Luke Burden, Director of Athletics, Horseshoe Bend Country Club

With summer warming up quickly, we are all going to feel the effects of the warmer weather and sun faster than we might think. Heat illness is a serious issue and one that we all want to avoid. By learning about the stages of heat illness, being aware of the signs and symptoms, and following these simple tips to stay hydrated, players can stay safe on the court even during soaring temperatures.

Three Stages of Heat Illness

  1. Heat cramps. Many players have experienced the first stage of heat illness. Players will be often experience cramps in the extremities. If a player is experiencing heat cramps, they should stop activity, find a cool place in the shade and drink fluids. Stretching the area can often help as well.
  2. Heat exhaustion. In the second stage of heat illness, the player will often have cool, moist, pale skin, a headache, dizziness or weakness and nausea. Like the first stage, try to find a cool place to get out of the sun and heat. Loosen or remove clothing and drink fluids. If the player refuses fluid or is vomiting, call 911.
  3. Heat stroke. This is the third, most severe stage of heat illness and is an emergency situation. Symptoms of heat stroke often include: vomiting, high body temperature, weak pulse and shallow breathing. The skin may still be moist or the player may have already stopped sweating by this stage. The player will also exhibit decreased alertness or even complete loss of consciousness.

Minimize Heat Exposure, Maximize Court Time

Heat illness, heat stroke, cramps and sunburn can keep players off the court, however there a few things we can do to minimize the effects and maximize our on-court time. To reduce the effects of the heat, try to follow these tips:

  1. Hydrate often. Drink fluid throughout the evening before and on the day you play. Many players make the mistake of only hydrating during their match or waiting until they feel thirsty, but it is often too late to stave off dehydration at that point. Also, make sure to drink the correct fluids: a combination of water and electrolyte sports drinks are best. Avoid diuretics, such as coffee and alcohol.
  2. Physically prepare. To be able to compete and play well in the heat, we need to practice and prepare. The more physically fit you are, the less likely you may experience a heat-related illness come match day.
  3. Apply sunscreen. Use SPF 30+ water-resistant sunscreen, and make sure to apply in the morning and then reapply regularly during the day.
  4. Wear a hat. A hat will protect your head and face from the sun and make you feel noticeably cooler.
  5. Wear sun protective clothing. Ensure your tennis clothing offers sun protection. Long sleeve tops protect the arms and collared shirts are great to protect the neck.
  6. Use an ice towel. It is pretty easy to bring a cooler and include a couple of towels in there with your drinks and ice. Wrapping an ice towel around your neck on the change of ends can help you feel much cooler.
  7. Stay out of the sun. Obviously, when we play, staying in the shade might not be possible. However, whenever possible, try to find a shady place to cool down and try not to sit in the sun to watch your teammates play. Also, if there is shade available on the court, try to use it during points or on the change of ends.