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Death of Georgia H.S. Football Player Raises Over-Hydration Concerns

Douglas County (Georgia) High School football player Zyrees Oliver passed away Monday after collapsing at his home following a football practice the previous week.

Oliver, a senior offensive lineman, was cramping during football practice the previous Tuesday because of dehydration, his aunt Tammy Chavis told WSB-TV's Jessica Jaglois. He responded by drinking two gallons of water and an additional two gallons of Gatorade, Chavis said.

Later that night, Oliver collapsed at home and was transported to a local hospital. After remaining in critical condition through Sunday, the family removed his ventilator after being informed that he had no chance of recovery, according to Alexis Stevens of The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Though doctors have yet to determine a cause of death, they told the family that he had massive swelling around his brain, Stevens reported. Family members told her and WSB-TV's Jaglois that they suspected he over-hydrated following practice.

"The water flooded his system and his brain started to swell," Oliver's cousin Bryan Stewart told Jaglois. "I believed he wasn't going to come out of it."

In the wake of Oliver's death, Dr. Hanny Atllah spoke with West Palm Beach's WPTV about the risks of over-hydration.

"For those athletes that are exercising frequently and losing a lot of water, they are also losing a lot of salt," said Atllah. "It is important to put back the fluid you lost, but it's also important to make sure your weight hasn't increased in between workouts."

According to the National Institutes of Health, "When the amount of sodium in fluids outside cells drops, water moves into the cells to balance the levels. This causes the cells to swell with too much water. Brain cells are especially sensitive to swelling."

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines for managing student-athletes in extreme heat, recommending that student-athletes between the ages of 9 and 12 drink roughly a half-cup to a cup of water every 20 minutes. Teenagers should drink up to five to six cups of water per hour, the academy recommended.

It's critical for student-athletes to not become so dehydrated that they respond by over-hydrating. As counter-intuitive as it might seem on the surface, there's a point in which consumption of water or Gatorade can be harmful for a dehydrated student-athlete, not helpful.

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