Q: Summer is approaching and I love to be out in the sun enjoying the warm summer days. However, I always feel like I’m not staying hydrated, and I’ve heard of people suffering from heat strokes or exhaustion. Am I at risk for this?
A: Yes, it is that time of year that people begin to spend days out in the sun, playing sports, swimming and enjoying the outdoors. However, most people are not aware that once the temperature is 70 °F or higher, chances of dehydration increase. Given that our bodies are approximately 75% water and blood is almost 80% water, replenishing fluid losses each day is extremely important. Unfortunately, when we become dehydrated, it causes our blood to thicken, which then causes increased stress on one’s heart, and increases risk of a heart attack. Dehydration can cause decreased alertness, increased appetite, and muscle cramping. The most common heat related conditions include:
1. Heat cramps, which is usually the first sign of dehydration may attribute to muscular pains and/or spasms in the abdomen or legs. If someone begins to experience these symptoms, they should be moved to a cool location and rehydrated with water. Once improved, one can gently stretch and massage muscles to help with the cramps. Sports drinks that are low in sugar and high in electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium are best if water isn’t available. Sugary sports drinks can cause worse abdominal cramps and nausea.
2. Heat exhaustion includes flushed/ashen skin, headaches, nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness and fatigue. It is usually experienced by athletes, construction workers, firefighters, and those persons that wear heavy clothing in a humid or hot environment. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, they should be moved to a cool location; excess clothing should be removed and wet towels or damp cloths should be placed on the patients forehead and body. If the person is conscious, they should receive 4 ounces of water every 15 minutes, until symptoms subside. However, if symptoms are not improving, or the person becomes more altered or confused, medics/911 should be called.
3. The third condition is called heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition that occurs when one experiences extremely high body temperatures, dry or damp red skin, confusion, rapid and/or weak pulse, nausea with vomiting, and sometimes seizures. If this occurs, medic should be contacted immediately. While waiting for assistance, immerse the person in cold water and/or ice (neck deep). The rapid cooling process should be done over 20 minutes or until the person’s mentation is improved.
Some steps that can be taken to avoid dehydration or volume depletion, include:
– walking around with a water bottle and sipping it regularly.
– Wearing light weight, light colored clothing (best if made of cotton or linen) to minimize heat absorption.
– Eating fruits and vegetables which are high in water content (i.e. grapes, melons, pineapples).
– Drink a glass of water before every meal and after using the rest room to replenish fluid lost.
– Monitor urine color. If urine is tea or apple juice colored, you are dehydrated. Urine should be light yellow in color when you are hydrated.
– Avoid caffeine or drinks with taurine that can increase dehydration, because they serve as diuretics, causing water loss.
– Try to stay in shaded areas to minimize heat exposure.
These simple steps can decrease adverse symptoms due to high temperatures and prevent dehydratiom while engaging in outdoor activities.
With that being said, have a safe and enjoyable summer!
DR. MELISSA JAMES