By Jean Huelsing RN (Founder of Camp Jump Start®)
The dog days of summer are here. With the unrelenting heat and humidity comes the risk of a potentially deadly malady—dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Scott was on the golf course when he collapsed at the 9th hole. Whenever he felt thirsty, he drank his beer to quench his thirst. What Scott did not understand is that your body depends on water to survive. All the cells in your body need water to function.
What started as a headache soon escalated to dizziness, then stomach cramps, then Scott collapsed. Drinking fluids that contain caffeine or alcohol will only dry you out further because of the diuretic effect. What he needed was simply water. Even sports drinks can be dangerous. One bottle of a sport drink can contain 800mg of sodium which is more than half of your total daily requirement. If you eat a salty snack at the same time, high blood pressure can become a problem. So sport drinks should only be used when you participate in longer duration exercise or are exposed to heat for long periods of time.
Half of your body weight is water, so it must be replenished continuously. Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body no longer has enough fluid to carry out its normal functions. If you do not replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated. Dehydration can occur in any age group although it is more severe in the very young and the very old. It can be life threatening.
During these hot muggy months it is especially important to drink a lot of fluids. Your body may overheat in the hot weather or while you are engaged in vigorous activity. Water should be the drink of choice as you attempt to replace these lost fluids.
Contrary to what you may have heard, there is no set rule for how much water your body needs. Different people have different needs. The best way to know that you are hydrated is to look at your urine. If it is clear or light yellow then you are hydrated appropriately. If it is straw-colored or dark yellow then you need to drink more.
If you are becoming dehydrated you will notice:
– Little to no urine
– Urine that is darker than usual
– Dry mouth or cough
– No tears when crying
– Loss of appetite
– Extreme thirst
– Lightheadedness or dizziness
– Flushed skin
– Heat intolerance
– Muscle cramps
– Sleepiness or fatigue
Being outdoors on a high humidity day can complicate the situation. The main way the body gets rid of body heat is through sweat. As sweat evaporates, it cools the body down. Lots of sweating will decrease the body’s water level causing dehydration and may lead to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures and if not caught in time may progress to heat stroke which is a life threatening condition. One of the signs of heat stroke is that a body will stop sweating. In a hot and humid climate looks can be deceiving. If the air is humid then it is saturated with water and evaporation will not occur. The body will look as though it is sweating when it is not. Therefore you must watch for the warning signs of dehydration and treat the conditions that you observe.
- Drinking before you are thirsty is the best way to avoid dehydration. To avoid getting dehydrated:
- Drink water before, during and after your workouts and meals.
- Hydrate the day BEFORE if you plan prolonged outdoor or vigorous activity.
- Thirst is typically a driving force when you are becoming dehydrated so buy a special water bottle and carry it with you every place you go.
- If you do not like plain water, use herbs or slices of lemons, limes, strawberries, cucumber as flavoring.
- Scott could have avoided his ambulance ride to the hospital had he understood dehydration.
So before you head outdoors in these dog days of summer, plan ahead. Drink water the day BEFORE you engage in prolonged outdoor activity. Determine your hydration by looking at the color of your urine. It should be clear or light yellow in appearance. Then, the morning of your activity, one to two hours prior to venturing out in the summer heat and humidity, drink 16 – 20 ounces of water to prepare for fluid loss.
Keeping hydrated throughout all your summer adventures will make your time outdoors much more enjoyable.
Camp Jump Start
3602 Lions Den Road
Imperial, MO 63052