For many golf fans, this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah’s Ocean Course represents a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to witness the best players in the world in person. Unfortunately, as Charleston residents know all too well, the heat will be intense. And that heat doesn’t just affect the athletes. The spectators must protect themselves as well.
Unlike the Family Circle Cup and our other traditional college and professional sports, the PGA Championship arrives during our hottest month of the year. Players will tee off and fight the course during the hottest hours of the day. Dehydration and possible heat illness will be significant concerns for the thousands of fans on the course and in the stands.
In response to concerns about the heat, and to try to help spectators stay properly hydrated, tournament organizers changed the policy regarding outside beverages and fans can now bring one unopened bottle of water into the tournament. Still, 70 spectators were treated for dehydration-related issues on Wednesday.
Dr. Keith Borg, Division Chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Associate Professor of Pediatric and Adult Emergency Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, said spectators need to drink water and sports drinks whenever they feel thirsty. They also need to watch the amount of alcohol they drink.
“Alcohol is somewhat of a diuretic for starters. The main problem with it comes when fans start drinking a lot and having fun. It changes their perspective, and they forget to take steps to stay cool and protect themselves,” Borg said.
Certain groups of people are at increased risk of heat illness and dehydration as well. Dr. Borg says that people on some heart and blood pressure medications, such as beta-blockers and diuretics, need to be especially careful. And parents should consider whether they should bring their babies and young children to the event. Young children cannot control their environments, so parents must pay close attention to ensure that they don’t get too hot.
Dr. Borg points out another group who should be concerned about the heat — out-of-town guests.
“There is a big difference between local residents and guests from other parts of the country when it comes to dealing with our heat. People traveling to Charleston, even those from warmer regions, often don’t realize how humid it is here. They might see 88 degrees and think it won’t be bad. Locals are used to the humidity and have adapted over time. But much of the heat illness we see comes from tourists.”
Fortunately, simple measures can decrease the risk of dehydration and heat illness. In addition to consuming enough water and sports drinks, wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing and seeking shade as often as possible can help.
In addition to preventative measures, fans must recognize signs they are getting sick. Symptoms such as nausea, lightheadedness, and dizziness warrant immediate medical attention. Changes in mental status, such as confusion and disorientation, represent medical emergencies. Since people often don’t recognize these changes occurring themselves, it is imperative that spectators pay close attention to others with them.
It is a tremendous honor for Charleston residents to have one of the premier sporting events come to our area. It should be a thrill watching the best golfers battle the challenging course and possibly strong winds, thunderstorms, and the heat. But fans cannot get so caught up in the action that they ignore the risks posed by our summer conditions.
Dr. David Geier is an orthopaedic surgeon and Director of MUSC Sports Medicine. For more information about golf injuries and other sports medicine topics, go to Dr. Geier’s blog at drdavidgeier.com.