Beating the heat 

With temperature up above normal, athletes are at risk of heat injury and dehydration

Despite the fact that parts of Canada are suffering their worst droughts in more than three decades, and that daily temperatures across the country are breaking records with no relief in sight, summer sports are in full swing.

The World Track and Field Championships in Edmonton, Alberta wrapped up with a scorching 35 degree Centigrade afternoon, and the Canada Games kicked off in London, Ontario this weekend with temperatures in the low 30s and higher than normal humidity.

In the U.S., the heat wave has gotten a lot of press with the death of two football players from heat stroke. Korey Stringer, an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, died on Aug. 8 of heat stroke, less than a week after University of Florida fullback Eraste Autin met the same fate. Stringer’s core body temperature was measured 108 degrees Farenheit (42.2 degrees Celsius) when he collapsed.

On Aug. 10, Rashidi Wheeler, a 22 year old football player for Northwestern University in Chicago died of an asthma attack that was likely worsened by the heat and his own heat-weakened conditions.

These deaths have sparked an interest in the prevention, recognition and treatment of heat-related illnesses such as dehydration and heat stroke. Athletic trainers and medical staff are monitoring the situation closely at the Canada Games, and coaches everywhere are lightening their training regimens until temperatures drop.

There have been no reported cases of dehydration or heat stroke at the Whistler Health Care Centre. But with temperatures reaching 30 degrees daily and warm weather likely to continue through the weekend, a little knowledge can go a long way.

According to the International Olympic Committee’s 2000 Sport Medicine Manual, risk of heat injury – a catchall term for all heat and dehydration injuries – is dependent on both the external environment and the athlete. The environmental factors include high temperature, high relative humidity (which results in decreased evaporation of sweat), increased solar radiation, and the absence of wind.

Athlete factors that contribute to heat injury include illness (such as fever, infection, recent vomiting and diarrhea), injury, lack of heat acclimatization (you need between four and eight days training at race temperature to improve evaporation), sunburn, excessive sun block (which reduces evaporative cooling, fatigue, excessive clothing, dark clothing, and rubberized clothing that prevents heat dissipation, and dehydration from a lack of fluid intake before and during the race in quantities that match your race pace.

"The real problem with heat stroke is that you have an increased rate of heat production that’s not being met by an equivalent rate of heat loss," says Doctor Adam Kendall of the Creekside Medical Clinic. "You have to be able to dissipate that heat."

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