As a heat wave continues across much of the country this week, the NFL continues its work to further prepare clubs to address heat-related illness. Thanks to the University of Connecticut's Korey Stringer Institute, the NFL distributed a video to its clubs that reviews best practices for treating exertional heat stroke.
In the video, Dr. Douglas J. Casa, PhD, CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) and Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, provides step-by-step guidelines designed by KSI to prevent, identify, assess and treat exertional heat stroke – a severe condition characterized by a body temperature above 105 degrees and signs of central nervous system dysfunction.
"It is imperative that medical personnel and coaching staffs quickly recognize [the signs of heat stroke] and initiate appropriate care," Dr. Casa said.
Identify, Assess, Treat
Team medical and coaching staff can identify heat stroke early based on specific changes in player behavior. Early signs of struggle include disorientation, staggering, decreased performance and profuse sweating. If a player exhibits any of these symptoms, he should be removed from play and escorted to the sideline for a medical assessment.
During the evaluation, team medical staff should take the athlete's temperature and check for signs of central nervous system dysfunction, which include irritability, collapse and altered consciousness.
If medical experts determine that the athlete is suffering from exertional heat stroke, cooling must be initiated immediately. The player should be immersed in an upright position in a tub filled with ice water.
"While treatment times may vary due to starting temperature, rapid cooling to 102 degrees within 30 minutes is imperative," Dr. Casa said.
Once the body has reached a temperature of 102, the player should be removed from the tub and transported via EMS to a medical facility or hospital for follow-up care.
In a communication to club clinicians, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's Chief Medical Officer, encouraged physicians and athletic trainers to watch and share the educational video to ensure they respond appropriately to heat-related illness.
"Especially in the heat conditions we are experiencing in most of the country this summer, we must be vigilant," said Dr. Sills. "This is an area where we can never become complacent, and the opening of our training camps is the league's period of greatest risk."
Clubs are encouraged to take proactive measures to ensure that players are protected.
According to Dr. Casa, prevention strategies such as heat acclimatization, practice and game modifications based on environmental conditions, proper hydration and adequate rest can help minimize the risk of exertional heat stroke.
Sharing Important Information
In his letter, Dr. Sills also emphasized the importance of sharing information about preventing and treating heat-related illness at every level of the game.
"This is, of course, an important issue for our clubs," said Dr. Sills, "but it is equally important for teams at any level – youth, high school and college – to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness so they can take action to prevent and treat it."
Additional resources on heat-related illness are available via the NFL's partner, the Korey Stringer Institute: