Water, water everywhere is essential to a healthy summer. Wherever the summer takes you, even if that means a daily walk to the park, be sure to bring water along. Water is the basic building block of every cell of our body. Adult bodies are comprised of up to 60 percent water, and in children that percentage is much higher. Newborns, for example, have a body composition of 78 percent water. Water is essential for physical functions, including the regulation internal body temperature through sweating and respiration, the efficiency of organs, and the lubrication of joints. We perspire to stay cool, so we are more at risk of losing the fluids we need to stay healthy in hot weather.
Why is drinking water so important in the summer? People sweat approximately one half to one quart of fluid for every hour they walk in the heat, according to the U.S. Government’s National Park Service Website. In fact, fluid loss can exceed 2 quarts per hour during rigorous exercise. Dehydration occurs when we lose more body fluids than we take in, and because sweat evaporates instantly, making its loss difficult to notice, we can be unaware of becoming dehydrated.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF DEHYDRATION?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), dehydration is a dangerous—and even potentially fatal—condition. When we perspire, we lose not only water but the minerals and salts in the water, particularly sodium and potassium, which are essential for healthy organ function. (This is why sports drinks have sodium and potassium added.) When temperatures soar in summer, being hot for too long can cause several illnesses, all grouped under the name hyperthermia.
There are several types of hyperthermia, varying in severity:
- Heat syncope is a sudden dizziness that may happen when you are active during hot weather. If you take a kind of heart medication called a beta blocker or are unused to hot weather, you are even more likely to feel faint. Drinking water, putting your legs up, and resting in a cool place should make the dizzy feeling go away.
- Heat cramps are the painful tightening of muscles in your stomach, arms, or legs. These cramps are a sign that you are too hot. Find a way to cool your body down. Rest in the shade or in a cool building.
- Heat edema is a swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot. Putting your legs up should help. If that doesn’t work fairly quickly, check with your doctor.
- Heat exhaustion is a warning that your body can no longer keep itself cool. You might feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated, and nauseated. You may sweat a lot. Even though your body temperature stays normal, your skin feels cold and clammy. Some people with heat exhaustion have a rapid pulse. Rest in a cool place and get plenty of fluids. If you don’t feel better soon, get medical care. Be careful—heat exhaustion can >progress to heat stroke.
- Heat stroke can be life threatening. You need to get medical help right away. Symptoms include: Fainting, possibly the first sign; body temperature over 104°F; a change in behavior—confusion, being grouchy, acting strangely, or staggering; dry flushed skin and a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse.
WHO IS MOST VULNERABLE TO DEHYDRATION?
- The elderly and infants. It is critical that both old people and babies are in environments with fans and air conditioning when temperatures rise to more than 70 degrees.
- Anyone with cardiac and vascular medical conditions.
- People with lung or kidney disease.
- Patients on certain medications, including diuretics, sedatives, and some heart and high blood pressure medicines. These may make it harder for your body to cool itself by sweating.
- People who are very overweight or underweight.
- People who drink excessively. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as one alcoholic drink per day for women and two for men.)
TIPS FOR STAYING HYDRATED:
- Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, but not those with alcohol or caffeine (coffee, tea, and some sodas). Caffeine can cause you to be dehydrated.
- Drink enough fluids to keep your urine light yellow in color, unless you are told to limit fluids.
- Keep an eye out for salt rings on your clothes. This is a sign that your fluid levels are getting too low.
- Eat foods high in water content, such as vegetables and fruit, in advance of strenuous outdoor activity or work.
- Don’t smoke.
- If you exercise rigorously in the summer, consult your medical provider.
If you think you need medical attention for a heat-related illness, Summit Medical Group Oregon ‘s Urgent Care Centers are state-of-the-art emergency facilities staffed by board-certified emergency department physicians and nurses experienced in emergency medicine and certified in advanced cardiac life support and pediatric advanced life.
SOURCE: Abigail Meisel for Summit Medical Group