Heat Related Illness

Heat related illnesses are to physical activity and increase with respects to high temperature and relative humidity. Participants in fall sports, who have preseason during the end of summer experience heat related illnesses more so that those who take part in winter and/or spring sports. There are different illnesses that can be caused by the heat. The most common are listed and defined below:

  • Exercised associated Muscle (Heat) Cramps – presents during or after intense exercise sessions and acts as painful muscle contraction. Caused by dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and neuromuscular fatigue.
  • Heat Syncope (dizziness) – Usually occurs during first 5 days of acclimatization (preseason training).
  • Exertional Heat Illness – Inability to continue exercise associated with a combination of heavy sweating, dehydration, sodium loss and energy depletion. Occurs in hot, humid conditions. Other signs and symptoms include muscle cramps, weakness, syncope, headache, nausea, decreased urine output, and body temperature between 97-104 degrees.
  • Exertional Heat Stroke – Characterized by body temperature over 104 F. Other signs and symptoms include tachycardia (rapid pulse), hypotension (Low Blood Pressure), sweating (with dry Skin), vomiting and seizures. Heat Stroke occurs when there is overheating of the bodies organ tissues that may induce malfunction of the temperature control center of the brain and/or circulatory failure. It is treated as a true medical emergency.

Heat Related Illness (HRI) Prevention Strategies

  1. At Pre-Participation Physical Exams, Identify any student-athlete who may be predisposed to HRI due to risk factors and those who have a history of HRI.
  2. Educate Student-athlete to watch fluid intake, with sweat and urine losses to maintain adequate hydration. Student-Athletes must drink water or sodium containing electrolyte fluids between 2-a-day practices and practice days to maintain less than a 2% change in body weight.
  3. Encourage Student-athletes to get 6-8 hours of sleep per night in a cool environment and eat a well balanced diet that follows the food guide pyramid, especially during 2-a-day practices.
  4. Check environmental conditions before and during activity and adjust practice and/or game schedules accordingly. For example, If we know that the forecast for a day is going to be high temperatures with high humidity, Athletic Training Staff member will notify coaching staff to make sure any adjustments to a practice3 will be made. Adjustments can be altered practice times, decrease in practice duration, increase frequency of rest/water breaks, and decrease equipment being worn.
  5. During 2-a-days, it is ideal for student-athletes to have 2-3 hours rest periods at meal time to allow for food and fluids to be properly replenished.
  6. Provide adequate supply of fluids (water or sports drink) to maintain hydration.

Lightning Safety

Lightning is the most consistent and significant weather hazard that may effect intercollegiate athletics. Within the United States the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that 60-70 fatalities and about 10 times as many injuries occur from lightning strikes every year. While the probability of being struck by lightning is low, the odds are significantly greater when a storm is in the area and proper safety precautions are not followed. Warning signs of severe weather that produces lightning include but are not limited to: high winds, dark skies, sudden drop in temperature. Lightning awareness should be heightened at the first flash of lightning, clap of thunder, and/or the previously mentioned warning signs of severe weather, no matter how far away. Education and prevention are the keys to lightning safety.

The current North Coast Athletic Conference Severe Weather policy reads as such:

This policy was established after extensive research and with the recommendations of the National Weather Service and was updated based on the policies of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports. Due to the unpredictable and rapidly changing nature of adverse weather and the potential catastrophic consequences of participation during threatening weather, this policy is to be followed explicitly and without delay.

  1. All athletic participation shall be stopped immediately in the event of lightning or thunder. All participants shall be instructed to take shelter under cover in the nearest safe area. It is extremely important to plan ahead and identify the nearest safe area. It is well documented that thunder is the result of atmospheric disturbance caused by lightning; therefore, if thunder is heard, lightning is occurring.
  2. Participants shall be allowed back on the playing field when no lightning or thunder has been observed for at least 30 minutes. Many victims of lightning strikes are injured or killed when they return to the outside too quickly after “the storm has passed” and are struck by lightning from the trailing edge of the storm.
  3. These guidelines are to be followed during all practices, contests, sports camps, etc.

Event Suspension

In the event of extraordinary weather conditions (primarily lightning), it shall be NCAC policy to suspend a conference game already in progress. The decision makers shall be the athletic directors (or designated representatives) of the teams involved, along with the officials working the game.

The following procedure shall be used:

  1. Officials stop game if there is concern regarding the weather.
  2. Officials send teams to their locker rooms and stop the game clock, recording possession of the ball.
  3. Officials meet with athletic directors (or designated representatives) and coaches to decide whether to continue the game. If an agreement can not be reached, the officials shall make the decision.
  4. If the game is resumed, it shall do so under the same terms that existed at the point of suspension.

In accordance with these guidelines an Ohio Wesleyan Athletic Department Staff Member will be responsible to monitor threatening weather and the decision to continue practice or an event. The delineation of responsibilities will be as follows: (1) Game Official (2) Head Athletic Director, (3) Athletic Training Staff Member, (4) Head Coach, (5) Assistant Coach. The highest ranking staff member present will have the responsibility of enacting the severe weather policy and informing student-athletes to discontinue practice.

Local weather can be monitored prior to and during practices by utilizing various means: Local television, the internet (weather.com, accuweather.com, weather.gov), and/or cable and satellite weather programming. Using these modes of information we can learn of any “watches” or “warnings” in Delaware and any surrounding counties. A staff athletic trainer will monitor the weather prior to practice beginning, using either the internet or local television programming. If there is a weather concern the coach will be notified and practice will proceed as planned until severe weather moves into the OWU campus and surrounding area.

If severe weather moves into the area the athletic trainer, coaching staff and student-athletes need to know where the closest “safer structure” is located. A safer structure is defined as any building normally occupied or frequently used by people, i.e., a building with plumbing and /or electrical wiring that acts to electrically ground the structure. In the absence of a sturdy, frequently used building, any vehicle with a hard metal roof neither a convertible nor a golf cart) with the windows shut provides a measure of safety. Dangerous locations are small covered shelters that are NOT safe from lightning. These include but are not limited to: Dugouts, rain shelters, golf shelters, and picnic shelters. Even if these buildings are properly grounded for structural safety they are not properly grounded from the effects of lightning and side flashes that can injure people.

The following are acceptable Safer Structures for our sports teams:

Team Safer Structure
Baseball Pressbox
M&W Cross Country Closest Campus Building
Field Hockey Locker Room @ Selby Stadium or Branch Rickey
Football Locker Room @ Selby Stadium
Golf Oakhaven Golf Course Pro Shop
M&W Lacrosse Locker Room @ Selby Stadium/Roy Rike
M&W Soccer Locker Room @ Roy Rike Field
Softball Pressbox
M&W Tennis Branch Rickey
M&W Track Locker Room @ Selby Stadium

As a minimum, lightning safety experts strongly recommend that by the time the monitor observes 30 seconds or less between seeing the flash of lightning and hearing a clap of thunder, all individuals should have left the athletic site and reached a safer structure location. Thunder may be hard to hear during an event if the competition facility has a large crowd. The existence of a blue sky and absence of rainfall are not guarantees that lightning will not strike. Cellular or cordless phones are safer to use during a lightning storm as compared to landlines.

In case of a person has been struck by lightning, persons being struck do not carry an electrical charge, therefore, it is safe for a responder to perform CPR. If possible, move the injured person to a safer environment prior to beginning CPR. Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) are also safe to use on a lightning strike victim if they are experiencing cardiac arrest. However, CPR should never be delayed until an AED is located.

Cold Weather Policy

Cold Exposure can be uncomfortable, impair performance and even become life threatening. Conditions created by cold exposure include wind chill, frostbite, and hypothermia. Wind chill can make activity uncomfortable and can impair muscle performance when muscle temperature declines. Frostbite is the freezing of tissues, usually of the face, ears, fingers, and toes. Hypothermia, a significant drop in body temperature, occurs with rapid cooling, exhaustion, and energy depletion. The resulting failure of the temperature-regulating mechanisms constitutes a medical emergency.

Prevention of cold stress is primarily a matter of dressing properly to control the climate next to the skin. Inadequate energy and fluid intake can significantly decrease cold tolerance. To prevent health concerns due to cold temperatures, student-athletes should:

  1. Clothing – Dress in layers and try and stay dry. Layers can be added or removed depending on temperature, activity, and wind chill. Because heat loss from the head and neck may be as much as 50% of total heat loss, the head should be covered during cold stress. Hand covering should be worn as needed with mittens being warmer than gloves.
  2. Energy/Hydration – Maintain energy levels via use of meals, energy snacks, and carbohydrate/electrolyte sports drinks. Stay hydrated as this will help with regulating the body’s temperature and preventing frostbite.
  3. Fatigue/Exhaustion – Fatigue and exhaustion increase the susceptibility to hypothermia.
  4. Warm-Up – A proper warm-up and staying warm throughout the practice or competition to prevent a drop in muscle or body temperature. Time the warm-up to lead into the competition. After competition, add clothing layers to prevent rapid cooling.
  5. Partner Training – Never train alone. An injury such as a sprained ankle can become life threatening if there is nobody to help the injured person return to campus.

Unlike the severe weather policy, it was agreed upon at the 2007 NCAC Athletic Trainers meeting that each school would have its own guidelines as it pertains to cold weather.

The chart below shows the time that is would take for frostbite to set in if an athlete is participating outside due to the temperature and wind chill.