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Key Terms

Acute mountain sickness


Cold exposure and illness


Heat cramps

Heat exhaustion

Heat exposure and illness

Heat index

Heat stroke

High-altitude cerebral edema

High-altitude pulmonary edema



Wind chill factor


A college football team is practicing in the early evening on their outdoor practice field right next to the locker room facility. Without much warning a thunderstorm begins near the facility. The athletic trainer on duty does not have a lightning warning device but decides to speak with the head football coach to warn him about the impending danger. The athletic trainer decides to have the entire team leave the playing field and go into the locker room. As the team is leaving the field, a bolt of lightning strikes the field area and knocks down two football players. Both players fall in the middle of the field and appear to be unconscious. What should the athletic trainer do to help the stricken football players? What should the athletic trainer do to prevent the possibility of this dangerous situation from occurring again?


As more physically active individuals participate in outdoor athletic activities, the frequency of environmentally related illnesses will increase. Participants in sporting events of long duration and those requiring particularly inclement weather and adverse conditions are especially prone to developing injury or illness. Heat-related illness, hypothermia, lightning strikes, and high-altitude illnesses are multisystem emergencies that require immediate, specific therapeutic treatments. Athletic trainers must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of these medical emergencies and institute definitive care.

Areas of interest for the proper recognition of emergency environmental conditions to be discussed in this chapter will include the following:

  1. Heat exposure and illness including heat exhaustion and heat stroke

  2. Cold exposure and illness including hypothermia and frostbite

  3. Severe thunderstorms and lightning emergencies

  4. Altitude illness including acute mountain sickness

  5. Prevention and care of environmental emergencies in athletics

Severe environmental conditions can cause injury to or illness in the athlete and may even cause death. For proper care to take place, specific intervention for environmental emergencies depends not only on the athlete’s physical condition, but also on the safety of the scene. The athletic trainer must educate the athletes, coaches, and administrators on basic preventive measures if they are going to participate in outdoor sporting activities. The athletic trainer must also be prepared and equipped with the means necessary to reduce injury and illness risk and carefully treat cases of athlete collapse as a result of severe environmental conditions.

Heat-Related Emergenices

Heat-related emergencies such as heat stroke claim ...

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