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WVU athletic trainer offers tips for avoiding exertional heat stroke

A blazing bright sun glows orange and paints the darkening sky as it sets behind a forested horizon.

A WVU athletic trainer is offering tips on ways to avoid exertional heat stroke for people who must be active outdoors when it is hot. (WVU Photo/David Malecki)

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When temperatures are climbing, a West Virginia University assistant professor of athletic training says taking precautions like limiting physical activity outdoors — including exercise and lawn work — to early mornings or evenings could be lifesaving.

Samantha Scarneo-Miller, director of the Master of Science in Athletic Training program in the WVU School of Medicine, is available to discuss exertional heat stroke, a condition which occurs when people exert themselves to the point of “uncompensable heat stress” and their bodies are not able to continue to thermoregulate or maintain the body’s internal temperature.


“Exertional heat stroke is a medical emergency and is fatal if not treated properly as quickly as possible. If you suspect someone has exertional heat stroke, call 911 and immediately place the person in a cold water immersion bath as fast as you can. The cold water immersion bath should be as cold as possible — add as much ice as you can. This can be in a literal bathtub, a garbage can filled half with water and then as much ice as you can or any means possible to get as much cold water and ice on the person as quickly as possible.

“Dangerous core body temperature is 105. Exertional heat stroke occurs with a core body temperature over 105 and central nervous system dysfunction including irritability, dizziness, confusion and altered consciousness. The blood in our body wants to try to cool us as fast as possible. As such, it is moving a lot more blood to our extremities and therefore other vital organs are not getting as much blood supply. This is why we think people get dizzy.

“Our bodies cool through four types of processes — evaporation (the biggest one), convection (wind), conduction (physically touching) and radiation. When the temperature, humidity and radiation are high with a low wind speed, we have conditions that do not allow us to dissipate the heat. In sports and physical activity, we look at the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature as a reading of environmental heat stress. The WBGT takes into account all four of these things — whereas heat index only takes into account temperature and humidity.

For people who must be active outdoors when it’s hot, the best things to do are:

     •      Maintain good physical fitness. People who maintain high physical fitness are less likely to get any type of heat illness. Build up your physical fitness in the heat, don’t try to do everything all at once. It is important to acclimate to activity in the heat.

     •      Keep hydrated. Hydration plays a role in our ability to thermoregulate. Think about evaporation — we need to sweat.

     •      Wear loose fitted and light-colored clothing.

     •      Stay in the shade as much as possible.

     •      Take breaks.

     •      Move your physical activity to the early mornings or late evenings when possible. 

“July and August are the deadliest months when we are talking about exertional heat stroke and sports. Those months usually have exertional heat stroke as the leading cause of death among athletes, whereas the rest of the year it is far and beyond cardiac arrest. Having an athletic trainer for all sports teams at all levels of play helps to prevent the likelihood that an athlete will die from exertional heat stroke. Occupational workers who work outside are also at extremely high risk for exertional heat stroke in the summer months.” — Samantha Scarneo-Miller, assistant professor of athletic training and Master of Science in Athletic Training program director, WVU School of Medicine

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVUToday.



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