Athletic trainers at the University of South Carolina are in the midst of completing a study with youth athletes that is the first of its kind in the nation.
Researchers have studied the risk factors of heat illness in older athletes for years, but when it comes to younger athletes USC professors say that is not the case.
"A lot of research has been done on the NFL level, the collegiate level, and even a little at the high school level, but nothing's been done at this level," said Dr. Susan Yeargin, an Associate Professor in USC's Athletic Training Education Program.
So Yeargin and students in USC's athletic training graduate program are hoping to change that. They are in the midst of studying nearly 40 youth football players in both the Pop Warner and Irmo-Chapin Recreational Leagues.
"We don't have to interrupt their game time," said Yeargin. "Once they come to the sidelines, we can get a heart rate and a core body temperature in like 3 seconds."
That's because the players are taking what's called a telemetric temperature pill. Inside of the pill is a tiny radio. "Once it gets down to the intestines it will actually vibrate according to the core body temperature, and it's attached to a radio and so the radio sends me a signal to this receiver," said Yeargin, demonstrating how the device works.
Each pill costs $40 and can only be used once. It's taken the night before a game, and Dr. Yeargin says a player will generally pass the pill within 24 hours.
Parents whose children are a part of the study say they think the research is pretty cool. "Of course, I was a little concerned about it at first, having that kind of device inside of him," said Mike Bonhomme, who's son Andrew has played Pop Warner football for three years. "But Dr. Yeargin assured all the parents in the study that it's 100 percent safe."
Athletic trainers are keeping track of a player's core temperature before, during and after the game. They'll use the numbers later when analyzing heat illness risk factors like a player's nutrition and sleep habits. "That way we can get an overall picture of what risk factors are relevant at this level and which ones aren't," added Yeargin.
So why not take a player's temperature the traditional way? Yeargin says it's not effective. "Unfortunately if you take a measurement on the shell or on your mouth or ear, all it does is provide you the temperature of the shell or what it's measuring," she added. "It doesn't actually tell you what's going on inside the body at the organs and the heart and the brain."
Yeargin, who's also a member of the Korey Stringer Institute's Medical Advisory Board, says the temperature pills have been around for nearly 30 years. She adds they have been used at the professional and collegiate levels for the last ten.
Once this study is complete, trainers will be looking for any kind of risk factors that may play a role in heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and even worse heat stroke and sickling.
"At the youth level there are no national heat safety guidelines, everything is dependent on the team or the league," said Yeargin. "We hope this information will at least provide information so that when guidelines are created that they're good and solid."
That's something parents and players are hoping for, too. "If the study that they do can just save one person from having an injury out her… it's worth every minute of it," said Bonhomme.
To participate in the study, players have to be at least 80 pounds and have no intestinal or throat issues.