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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

As Fall Sports Camps Open, WMCHealth Network Experts Offer Important Health and Safety Tips

An athlete isn't only at risk while on the playing field. From heat exhaustion to avoiding a locker room infection, athletes should be aware of these dangers to ensure they're in the lineup when the season begins.

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Across the Hudson Valley, local athletes have reported for fall practices and training camps.  Follow these health and safety tips from Westchester Medical Center Health Network experts to ensure everyone is ready to play their best.

Hydration is paramount when practicing under the summer sun

Even though athletes are preparing for fall sports, they’re practicing in the prime of summer, and that means a potentially dangerous combination of heat and humidity that can cause a number of dangerous health conditions.

Heat related illnesses could affect many organ systems, including the brain, heart, and kidneys. Children are especially vulnerable, as their thirst mechanism is delayed, and they may not feel thirsty when mildly dehydrated. Also, kids don’t produce sweat as efficiently as adults.

“One of the most effective ways to stave off heat-related conditions is with proper hydration,” says Geralyn Flaherty, RN, Clinical Director for Emergency Services at Westchester Medical Center and Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, members of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth). “The key is to hydrate before, during, and after activity, taking a drink of water every 15-20 minutes during exercise.”

Staying hydrated is vital, as the energy-producing chemical reactions necessary of an athlete’s body require water, which is preferable to “sports” or “energy” drinks. Some of these products contain sugar, which can lead to obesity, and many energy drinks contain high doses of caffeine.  As caffeine is a stimulant, teens often believe these drinks will boost their energy, however in high doses, caffeine has a diuretic effect that actually contributes to dehydration.  Water remains the simplest and best option for hydration during end of summer activities.

Don’t take chances with a head injury

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury created by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or by a hit to the body that causes the brain to move rapidly back and forth.  Concussions and their related symptoms are sometimes slow to develop and easy to ignore, which can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. These complicated injuries can be difficult to diagnose, but airing on the side of caution is always preferable. After a hard hit, seek attention from an athletic trainer or medical professional.

Medical care is especially paramount if an athlete loses consciousness, no matter how brief. Parents, coaches, and athletic trainers should be vigilant in monitoring for an altered mental status and other troublesome neurologic indicators in the days following a potential concussion.

Look for symptoms like headaches, vomiting, confusion, memory issues, and imbalance,” said Michael Cho, MD, a neurosurgeon at MidHudson Regional Hospital, a member of the WMCHealth.  “These can evolve over time, so a person should be monitored over at least a 24-48 hour period if suspected of having a concussion.”

Locker rooms can be the source of serious infections

Playing field injuries aren’t the only hazard in sports. There’s a subtler threat lurking in the locker room: infections caused by germs.

One common danger is athlete’s foot, a skin infection that can bring itching, flaking, peeling, blistering, or redness. Guard against it by keeping feet clean and dry, taking off sport shoes when practice is done, and drying carefully between the toes with a clean towel. Don’t go barefoot in public areas like locker rooms and pools - wear sandals instead.

MRSA is a much more serious bacterial infection that can cause harm to skin and underlying soft tissue. This “staph” germ is spread through skin-to-skin or skin-to-surface contact, which makes athletes especially prone to contamination. The most common symptom is a skin boil, which looks like a pimple at first, but then becomes warm, large, swollen, and tender.

“It is rare that MRSA causes more serious illness, but when it does, people get sick quickly,” said Sheila Nolan, MD, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital.  “The bacterium can destroy soft tissue and can spread through the bloodstream to muscles, bones, the heart, lungs, and other organs.”

To reduce the chance of infection by unwanted germs, athletes should diligently shower with soap and water following each practice and game, and should not share equipment. For sports such as wrestling and gymnastics, mats should be cleaned after each use.

Know the risks of a surprisingly hazardous activity: cheerleading

No longer simply sideline spirit-boosters, the modern cheerleader is a highly-competitive athlete with increasingly spectacular - and dangerous - routines. In fact, during the last 25 years, cheerleaders have suffered 66 percent of girls’ catastrophic injuries in high school athletics.

Cheer practices often take place in a field or on hard floors with little to no padding where a mistake can lead to serious harm. “Falls during a cheerleading routine can cause fractures that require surgery, and in young children that can affect bone growth,” says Robert Cristofaro, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital.

Despite the risks, Dr. Cristofaro does not advise parents to bar children from cheerleading, but does recommend vigilance in ensuring that the coaches and administrators in charge of the cheer team are properly trained and attuned to the risks of the sport.

“In general, cheerleading is a great activity,” Dr. Cristofaro says. “I encourage it, but be sure there is adequate supervision.”