Trainers: Most young athletes are dehydrated before practice

Published: Sep. 13, 2012 at 2:42 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2012 at 2:42 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Fall sports are in full swing, but athletic trainers say don't let the coming weather season take your eyes off the heat.

Dr. Susan Yeargin, an athletic training professor at the University of South Carolina, says most children ages eight to 18 are dehydrated before the ever get to practice, and yet the chance for heat illness remains through the fall months.

"We know that anytime that temperature is above 70 degrees and even below, but anytime, we're above 70, a person could be at risk for heat illness," Yeargin said.

This is Yeargin's first year at USC, but she's been researching heat illness around the country for several years and says most recently she determined that 75 percent of young athletes show up to practice dehydrated.

"We saw from analyzing their urine that they were dehydrated, some just minimal and some severely dehydrated," Yeargin said.

Yeargin says she used a specific chart for her research.

"If a child gives us a sample that's clear or light yellow like lemonade then they are hydrated and they're doing good, but then if it starts to look bright like yellow or mellow yellow they're dehydrated," Yeargin said.. "If it starts to look brown, kind of like apple juice, then they're very dehydrated."

Yeargin says a recent USC grant has given graduate students the opportunity to provide athletic training services for youth football leagues. She says the partnership came in handy less than two weeks ago when a young child became sick at a game.

John Dickinson was the USC graduate student who was at the Saturday game. He usually attends Irmo Youth Football practices Monday through Thursday nights, but was at the weekend event where several leagues were playing when the incident happened.

"A coach brought [a child] over and said he was throwing up," said Dickinson. "So I evaluated him, asked him a few questions. He seemed a little out of it."

Dickinson says the child was dizzy, had a headache, and was nauseous. He adds those are all symptoms of heat illness.

"I took his pads off, took out my 'kiddie pool' that I have with me all the time, opened it up and started cooling him down by pouring the water that we had and the ice on the sideline," Dickinson said.

Dickinson then called EMS.

"If there wasn't any sort of way to cool him down he would have just kept heating. He could have either gotten really injured with the internal injuries, [he] even possibly he could have died," Dickinson said.

The child is said to be doing okay, and Yeargin says she's thankful an athletic trainer was on site to respond. She's hoping the incident will now bring awareness to just how dangerous being dehydrated in the heat can be.

Yeargin says while many leagues do a great job of giving their athletes water breaks, it's how the young athletes prepare before practice that will also make a difference.

"The whole myth of eight glasses a day really needs to kind of go out the window," Yeargin said. "It really needs to be what does that adult need? Or what does that youth need? There's no particular magic number for anybody."

Yeargin says on average a child can lose a half of a liter of water per hour in sweat, so it's also important that a child is replenishing what is lost. She suggests sports drinks and flavored water as her research shows a child is more likely to drink more when the liquid is flavored.

She also says it's important for children to bring their own water bottle to practices and games. She says water fountains are not efficient when it comes to proper hydration. Yeargin adds a child should also be getting enough sleep, because if they're not, they are more likely to get some form of heat illness.

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