by Sari Harrar
If your child’s got a sports camp, summer practice for school sports or will be tooting a horn, twirling a baton or waving a flag at summer marching-band rehearsals, here’s some advice from Christopher Haines, DO, FAAP, FACEP, Director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children: Get them acclimated to outdoor temperatures before they go.
“You can’t spend most of the summer in air-conditioning, then suddenly start long outdoor and feel good,” says Haines. “Every summer we see several kids in the emergency room who weren’t acclimated before sports or band camp -- especially before summer football practice. They get dehydrated and can even have a breakdown of muscle tissue if they’re overexerting in heat without enough hydration.”
It’s not just the sudden change in temperature. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids’ bodies heat up faster in hot weather and also produce more heat than an adult when active. They also sweat less, which means they don’t cool off as effectively. And often, they don’t drink enough fluids to replace the water they do lose via perspiration. And kids with health problems like diabetes, cystic fibrosis, or even a stomach bug are at even higher risk for heat-related problems.
In a recent University of Georgia study, athletes who took time getting used to the heat cut their risk for heat illnesses significantly. In most states, high school football players do ease in. New heat acclimatization guidelines developed by national high school athletic organizations say the first week of football practice should consist of single-practice days with sessions no longer than two hours with helmets only. During the second week, teams can start two-a-day practices with full equipment, but they cannot have consecutive double-session days: a double-practice day must now be followed by a single-practice day. There has to be at least three hours of rest between sessions on a double-practice day and double-day sessions cannot exceed five hours of practice time.
Here’s how you can help your teen or older child get ready for a hot practice season:
Drink before, during and after. Have your teen sip at least 8 ounces of water a half-hour or so before heading out. Kids should then sip water every 30 to 45 minutes (or even more frequently) during practices or when active outdoors, Haines says. The AAP recommends that kids get 5 to 9 ounces (the bigger the kid, the more water he or she needs) as often as every 20 minutes.
Ease in. Plan to have your child get outdoors for short periods of time starting 10 days to two weeks before practices begin. Start out small and low-key, then increase the length of time and amount of activity. The AAP says getting acclimated in temperatures cooler than 79 degrees is a good idea -- and that kids should limit activity once the thermometer hits that point.