Can't Take the Heat: How Florida Gator Fans Can Avoid Heat Illness

HCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2008

While nearly every fan in The Swamp was on their feet awaiting kickoff, Erin Maloy sat in the stands feeling lightheaded. As a freshman in 2007, Maloy was attending her first UF game vs. Western Kentucky. Fearing she might faint if she walked back to her dorm in the heat, she decided to stay put.

“I waited until the game was over,” Maloy said. “I didn’t know they had first aid available.”

Each game, 200-250 fans visit the first aid stations due to a heat-related illness at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Heat-related illnesses include dehydration, fainting and heat stroke. During past football seasons, the smallest number of people treated during a game was 100 and the largest was 600, said Dan Shaeffer, Alachua County District Chief.

There are six first aid locations, according to a stadium map on the Gator Zone Web site. The Web site advises that those with a history of heart, lung, stomach, or intestinal problems have a greater risk for heat illness. If an individual is feeling sick, they should notify event staff.  

Alachua County paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and volunteers with various degrees in advanced first aid are on duty. Additionally, Shands physicians are available at two first aid locations, Shaeffer said.

“The highest percent of people we see in the aid station is for fluid depletion,” Shaeffer said.

While some fans think drinking water at the game is enough to keep hydrated, it is important to consume non-alcoholic fluids ahead of time, said Janis Mena, Gatorwell Health Promotion Services Nutritionist.

“At the event it’s a little too late,” Mena said. “Your thirst can’t keep up with the amount of water you lose.”

Mena also suggests that game attendees wear hats, stay in the shade, and take advantage of the free cups of ice and water fountains in the stadium. Lightweight clothing should be worn. Jeans, layered clothing, and heavy garments should be avoided.

The heat can be dangerous, but when fans consume alcohol it can make situations worse.

“At a game, I was walking back to my seat and noticed a girl throwing up all over herself,” said UF sophomore Jessica Babcock. “She did seem intoxicated.”

Alcohol enables individuals to urinate more than they should, and this dehydrates the body, said Cheree Padilla, Sports Medicine Fellow M.D.

If someone feels faint, Padilla recommends they lie down, bring their knees up to get blood to the brain and that the individual drinks fluids, like Gatorade, to replace electrolytes.

Regardless of medical emergency, whether heat related or not, the first aid stations in the stadium are there to help.