As summer ramps up and temperatures rise, dehydration and heat illness become bigger risks. Knowing what dehydration looks like, what can worsen dehydration, and how to fight dehydration, will make summer much more enjoyable for you and your friends and family.
What is Dehydration?
Our bodies are about 70% water. If we expel more water than we take in, dehydration occurs. This may occur through excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, or long periods without ingesting liquids.
Our bodies need water for temperature regulation, flushing waste, cushioning our joints, brain and spinal cord, and delivering oxygen. So, if we don’t get enough water, our blood pressure plummets, waste builds up, oxygen can’t move freely, joints get stiff and more. If dehydration continues, essential body functions shut down and a person will die in about three to six days. Serious complications, such as kidney failure, seizures, fainting, and hypovolemic shock happen much faster.
What Are the Symptoms of Dehydration?
When dehydration occurs, you may feel dizziness, fatigue, confusion, extreme thirst and cramps. Since you don’t have enough liquid in your body, you may not sweat as much, which will make it even more difficult to regulate your body temperature, and may result in an elevated internal temperature.
Look for these signs of dehydration:
- Extreme thirst
- Infrequent urination
- Dark urine
What to Do if You’re Dehydrated
If you noticed the symptoms listed above in yourself or someone else, what can you do? It’s best to intervene as soon as you can. Dehydration can lead to serious complications, like heat stroke and heat exhaustion, kidney failure, seizures, and even death. Heat-related jobsite deaths have doubled since the 1990’s, showing that these conditions present serious risks.
If you notice symptoms of dehydration:
- Get out of the sun and heat and into a cool, shaded area immediately
- Drink water and/or beverages with electrolytes, such as Gatorade. Avoid sugary drinks like soda or energy drinks, if possible.
- Stop physical activity and sit down, ideally on the floor or ground. This way, if dizziness or fainting causes a fall, injury won’t occur.
- Monitor the dehydrated person, or ask someone to sit with you. If fainting, seizures or shock occur, or if dizziness and confusion don’t go away, call 911 or go to the hospital.
- If the dehydrated person can’t keep fluids down due to illness, call 911 or go to the hospital.
Things That Can Worsen Dehydration
Most of us know that not drinking enough water can cause dehydration. There’s a few other factors that can worsen dehydration and make it harder to fight dehydration.
All of the following can increase risk of dehydration:
- Hot weather and direct sunlight
- Physical activity, such as playing sports or working outdoors
- Drinking alcohol
- Medication that increases sweating, such as SSRI’s, like Prozac
- Diuretic medications often used to treat high blood pressure, edema, or liver, kidney or heart disorders
- Food poisoning, the flu, or similar illnesses
- Diabetes and other pre-existing conditions
Keep in mind that these are not the only things that can worsen dehydration. Also, while some medications will not necessarily increase the risk for dehydration, they can increase the risk of heat exhaustion. This can include prescription and over-the-counter medications used to treat allergies, asthma, Parkinsons, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more.
How to Fight Dehydration in Hot Weather
Now that you know what dehydration looks like and what to do if you notice the signs, here are a few ways you can fight dehydration in hot weather.
Keep Water Handy
Even if you don’t like drinking water, it’s a good idea to keep it handy in the summertime. You might refill bottles of juice or soda with water once you’ve finished them, so you’ll have a supply of cool water in the fridge. If you can make drinking water a regular habit, you may find that you have more energy and the heat feels less extreme.
Bring More Water Than You Need
If you’re getting ready for an outdoor party, sporting event, or another outing, bring more water than you need. You might bring some water bottles with you, and fill some extra bottles with ice, so it will keep your beverages cold and you can drink it once the ice has melted.
Be Aware of Alternative Water Sources
When storms and power outages happen, water sources can be contaminated and your city or township might issue a “boil water advisory”, a “do not drink” notice or a “do not use” notice. If this happens, it’s a good idea to have alternative water sources ready. This might mean filling up extra jugs or containers of water beforehand, or knowing where you could go to get clean water. A nearby municipality might not be affected, so you might use a friend’s drinking water, or find an ice or water vending machine in a neighboring area.
Drinking alcohol can increase risks of dehydration and heat illness. Especially during the hottest days or hottest parts of the day, try to avoid alcohol, and drink water instead. Or, if you plan on drinking alcohol, have at least one glass of water between each alcoholic beverage. This will help you stay hydrated and help to prevent overdrinking.
Acclimatize to Heat
Heat illness and dehydration often occur together. You can avoid heat illness by acclimating to hot weather over a period of 7 to 14 days. Instead of jumping into sports or hard work suddenly in the middle of the summer, acclimate slowly by doing some physical activity outdoors for an hour or two, and increasing this amount slowly.
These tips can help you fight dehydration in hot weather, and avoid serious complications from dehydration. Your body will thank you for staying hydrated, and you’ll enjoy the summertime even more!