West Virginia summers and heat illness

West Virginia summers and heat illness

I was providing medical coverage for the West Virginia North/South football game this year and just standing on the sideline watching the athletes was enough to exhaust me. I chose to cool down with a lemon ice and shade, but the athletes were going all out in full pads and had much more potential for danger than myself.

Fortunately, the athletic trainers covering the game were prepared to help athletes deal with the heat with fluids, ice, cold towels, a heat index anemometer and a plan for emergency situations. The principles that athletic trainers used to keep the athletes safe, are the same ones that you can use to keep your children safe in the heat of summer.

1. Know the temperature

Athletic trainers will calculate, use a wet bulb thermometer or use a heat index anemometer to factor in humidity and temperature to know when it is not safe for athletes to be practicing in the heat. As the temperature and humidity go up, so does the risk for heat-related illness.

Be cautious when temperatures rise above 85 degrees and the humidity is above 35%–which perfectly describes a West Virginia summer. The higher the temperature and humidity, the greater the risk for heat illness.

Monitor our local news stations for extreme weather warnings.

Limit outdoor activity and encourage time in house with air conditioning during the hottest part of the day–between 10 a.m. and 4p.m., especially if temperatures are above 95 degrees and humidity is above 50%.

2. Know the symptoms

In order to monitor your kids, you need to know the symptoms of heat-related illness, which can range from mild to severe. We want to catch symptoms when they are mild. Early symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, muscle cramps, heavy sweating and nausea.

More severe symptoms include vomiting, confusion, fainting, hot/red/dry skin and rapid pulses. If you notice early symptoms, hydrate and cool your child until symptoms resolve. If symptoms are severe hydrate, cool and call 911. 

3. Stay hydrated

At practices, athletic trainers will weigh athletes before and after practice. If the athlete weighs less after practice then they are not getting enough fluids. You can do the same thing with your children to know if they are drinking enough fluids. If they weigh less after activity, encourage your children to hydrate more during activity. Do not wait until they are thirsty. Drink often and if symptoms arise hydrate and cool. If symptoms are severe, call 911. 

4. Have a plan to cool down

When an athlete has heat illness, we treat with ice water immersion and monitor the athlete’s temperature. This is an effective way to cool, but body temperatures should be monitored when cooling with ice water immersion.

For concerned parents who recognize symptoms of heat illness, there are other ways to cool your child. Cooling methods include going to a shaded area, fanning your child, ice packs, getting in the pool, taking a cool bath/shower and going to air conditioning.

For more severe symptoms hydrate and cool your child, and call 911.

Heat-related illness is one of the leading causes of death during summer and in athletes. With a few simple principles, you can help keep your loved ones safe.

For more specific details visit the CDC, OSHA or National Athletic Trainer Association (NATA) websites.


CDC.gov, Natural Disaster and Severe Weather/Extreme Heat

OSHA.gov, Heat Illness Prevention

NATA, Parents’ and Coaches’ Guide to Dehydration and Other Heat Illnesses in Children

NATA, Inter-Association Task Force on Exertional Heat Illnesses Consensus Statement

NATA Position Statement: Extreme Heat Illnesses

NATA Position Statement: Preventing Sudden Death in Sports


Brock Niceler, MD

Dr. Niceler is a board-certified, fellowship-trained primary care sports medicine physician and an assistant professor in the department of orthopaedics at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.