3 Common Heat-related Illnesses in Sport and How to Prevent Them

By  //  June 5, 2023

Heat-related illnesses often occur when athletes play a high-intensity sport in warm weather. Since these conditions can significantly affect athletes, our team at First Aid Pro will discuss how to identify and prevent three common heat-related illnesses in sports.

Many summer sports are played in hot and humid conditions, leaving athletes susceptible to heat-related illnesses.

Heat-related illnesses are disorders caused by heat that raises body temperatures to unhealthy levels.

These are some of the most common heat-related illnesses athletes experience.

Heat Cramps

When athletes lose excessive sweat and electrolytes, it can lead to heat cramping.

Heat cramps are painful and involuntary muscle spasms that could be an initial symptom of a more serious heat-related illness such as heatstroke.

These cramps can also occur when people exercise heavily or have reduced magnesium and vitamin B12 levels.

Here is a list of actions to take if someone is experiencing heat cramps:

  • Stop exercising and sit in a cool area until symptoms subside
  • Softly massage and stretch the cramping area
  • Rub an anti-inflammatory cream on the affected area, e.g. Voltaren
  • Replenish fluid intake with water or electrolyte drinks 
  • Call for emergency assistance if cramps worsen

Although heat cramps are common, there are several options to prevent them.

Hydrating before and during exercise, taking vitamin B12 and magnesium supplements daily, and stretching muscle groups are all ways to lessen the chance of heat cramps. 

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a common but dangerous illness when a person’s body temperature rises above 37.8 degrees Celsius or 100.04 Fahrenheit and cannot create enough sweat to cool down. 

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, heat rashes, pale skin, shallow breathing and feeling faint.

Athletes that are pregnant, under 18, elderly or taking sweat-restricting medication have a higher chance of suffering heat exhaustion in hot and humid conditions. 

If heat exhaustion is not treated early, it can lead to a more severe illness, heatstroke.

To assist an individual experiencing heat exhaustion, take the following measures:

  • Having a cold shower or bath
  • Stop exercising and move to a cool area with shade
  • Put a cold pack or wet sponge under the feet, forehead, around the neck or wrists
  • Drink small amounts of water or diluted juices
  • Remove excess clothing
  • If symptoms intensify and lead to vomiting or dry, red skin, call for emergency help immediately

Despite its severity, multiple techniques can prevent heat exhaustion. 

Keeping hydrated throughout exercise, staying out of direct sunlight when possible, wearing a hat, and placing loose cotton clothes on can reduce the likelihood of heat exhaustion.

Dehydration

Without an adequate amount of water in their bodies, athletes will experience dehydration.

Individuals suffering from dehydration often display tiredness, irritability, a lack of balance, increased thirst, a loss of appetite and feeling faint.

Similar to heat exhaustion, dehydration can lead to heatstroke if left untreated.

These are some effective techniques to help someone suffering from dehydration:

  • Rehydrate with water, juice or electrolyte drinks
  • Stop exercising and sit down in a cool and shaded area
  • Take off any excess clothing
  • Place a cool, wet sponge or cold pack on the forehead, beneath the feet or around the wrists and back of the neck
  • Seek immediate emergency assistance if symptoms become more severe 

While it may seem difficult for athletes exercising in hot conditions to maintain their fluids, there are ways to reduce the risk of dehydration.

Since keeping fluid levels high in hot and humid weather is essential, athletes should avoid caffeinated or alcoholic drinks and consume adequate amounts of water before exercising to prevent dehydration.

Take our nationally recognised first aid courses to learn more about preventing heat-related illnesses.

With over 100 training venues and multiple online course options, there is availability for everyone wanting to learn life-saving first aid skills.