Marty Jackson knows that the football season has arrived when summer temperatures near unbearable levels.
Greenbrier High School football players gather around the water fountain at the practice field. With the heat index consistently rising to more than 100 degrees, frequent water breaks are necessary during any outdoor activity.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"It's typical," said Jackson, Evans High School's football coach. "It never gets really hot until football (season). It's been kind of a mild summer until last week."
Jackson is well-versed in the danger that the heat poses to the 130 players who took to the field Monday for the first day of the school's mandatory football camp.
"The first thing we are doing is educating," Jackson said, adding that even well-hydrated players are made to take breaks every 20 minutes and drink at least 16 ounces of water. "We talk to them on the first day ... You have to hydrate."
The past week in Columbia County has been a hot one with temperatures reaching the mid-90s on some days and the heat index breaking the 100 mark.
Dr. Michael Shafe, an emergency physician for MCG Health Inc., said hydration is critical during such summer heat in the South.
"To avoid having problems, I would say recognize on very hot days that you need to stay well hydrated," Shafe said. "If you find yourself where you are getting into a situation where you are possibly going to get dehydrated or start cramping, you need to take action sooner rather than later to correct the problem."
Though this summer has been sweltering so far, Bernard Palmer, the meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service Forecast Office in West Columbia, S.C., said temperatures are not record-breaking. He said they have actually been a little below the July average between the upper 80s and lower 90s. The record high for the area during the summer months, he said, is 104 degrees.
"It's the humidity," Palmer said. "You are getting a tropical southerly flow that is bringing in moisture and keeping the humidity high. It feels uncomfortable, and it feels higher than that. That's why it feels so unpleasant and oppressive."
Palmer said his office does not track daily heat indexes, which combines the effects of heat and humidity. Warm temperatures feel even warmer when it's humid and Palmer estimates that recent heat indexes have been nearly 100 degrees.
Despite the overpowering and sometimes debilitating heat this month, Shafe said he has seen only a few cases of heat-related illness this summer.
"In the South, we don't usually really see a lot of heat-related illness only in light of the fact that most of the folks are climatized. Their bodies are adjusted to the heat," Shafe said. "They are used to recognizing when they need to be careful."
Jackson said during the first week of practice, he has seen very few cases of heat-related illness because most of the players have acclimated themselves to working out in high temperatures.
Shafe said anyone working or playing outside should be able to recognize the signs of heat-related illness, which include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and stroke. Those at the highest risk include the extremes of age - children and the elderly, Shafe said.
Heat cramps can cause weakness, muscle cramps and dry mouth. Heat exhaustion presents the same symptoms as heat cramps with the addition of a person losing the ability to sweat and their core temperature begins to rise, Shafe said.
"They need to orally rehydrate themselves and rest," he said.
Jackson said his staff monitors players by weighing them in and out of camp daily to ensure that no one has lost more than 2 percent of their body weight by sweating during a single practice. And they keep a close eye out for symptoms of dehydration and heat related illness. Anyone showing signs gets pulled out of practice to sit down, cool off and drink water, Jackson said.
"Our coaches are educated in that they know to look people in the eye," Jackson said. "We look for the signs of dehydration and the signs of heat exhaustion.''
What to do in a heat wave
- Increase intake of non-alcoholic, noncarbonated, caffeine-free beverages such as water and juice.
- Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.
- Avoid the outdoors during extreme heat. Stay out of the sun.
- Stay in an air-conditioned environment if possible. Shopping malls offer relief if your home is not air-conditioned.
- Check on the elderly. They are especially susceptible to heat-related illness.
- Eliminate strenuous activity such as running, biking and lawn care when it heats up.
- Eat less food that increases metabolic activity, which causes heat. Proteins are an example.
Heat-related illnesses and their symptoms
- Sunburn - redness and pain in the skin. In severe cases there also is swelling, blisters, fever and headaches.
- Heat cramps - Heavy sweating and painful spasms usually in the leg or abdominal muscles.
- Heat exhaustion - The person becomes weak and is sweating heavily. The skin is cold, pale and clammy. The pulse becomes thready. Fainting and vomiting accompanies heat exhaustion.
- Heatstroke/sunstroke - High body temperature (106 degrees or higher) along with hot, dry skin and a rapid and strong pulse. Unconsciousness is possible.
Source: National Weather Service
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