Take the steps to avoid dehydration

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sheri Webb
  • 23rd Medical Group
(Editor's note: With the upcoming Phase II Operational Readiness Exercise, which entails donning the gas mask as well as wearing chemical gear, it's important to avoid dehydration by following tips provided by Maj. Sheri Webb.)

As the warm days of summer approach and the whole family spends more time outdoors, it's important to keep in mind the possibility of becoming dehydrated.

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in.

With dehydration, more water is moving out of the cells and then out of the body than the amount of water taken in through drinking. Without adequate water, the body cannot carry out the critical cellular processes that produce energy and keep the finely tuned body running properly.

The average person requires multiple six- to eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Another common reference is to divide one's body weight in half to get the quantity of water in ounces one should drink daily. Either one is good as a baseline, knowing additional fluids may be required based on health status, activity level, ability to sweat, stress and environment factors.

The symptoms of dehydration can be brought on not only by warm weather and excessive sweating, but also by vomiting, diarrhea and fever related to an illness. It doesn't take a lot of vomiting or diarrhea to cause significant fluid loss, especially when it is not being consistently replaced.

Thirst should not be ignored, especially when it is hot outside. Even though it is typically the first symptom of dehydration, it usually doesn't appear until an individual is around one percent dehydrated.

The signs and symptoms of dehydration range from minor to severe. Minor symptoms typically show up early include a dry mouth, marked thirst and reduced urination or dark yellow urine. The next set of symptoms is when the eyes begin to look sunken and the skin starts to lose its elasticity and appear wrinkled. Normally the skin will quickly spring back when pinched. Dehydrated skin will remain tented or pinched together after it is released.

When early signs of dehydration are identified, it is best to encourage fluids in small amounts. Start by sipping water from a glass or straw or sucking on ice chips. The use of sports drinks or prepared replacement solutions such as Pedialyte are good fluid alternatives because they also help to restore electrolytes. Popsicles can easily be made from juices or sports drinks. Be careful not to introduce too much water at once as this will often upset the dehydrated stomach and cause vomiting.

Headache, dizziness, confusion, and increases in both heart and respiratory rates occur in more advanced cases of dehydration. These symptoms are not the only ones that may appear; they are simply the most common ones.

A heat stroke, also referred to as sunstroke is a medical emergency because it is a condition beyond dehydration. It occurs when the body is no longer able to cool itself and when this happens the body's temperature will begin to rise quickly.

Someone suffering from heat stroke will no longer be complaining of heat or thirst because they may become confused or delirious, lose consciousness, or even have a seizure.

If it appears someone is developing heatstroke, get them out of the heat and call for help immediately. Call 911 or have someone drive them to the emergency room.

Cool the person by removing excess clothing and loosen other clothing. Air-conditioned areas are best for helping return body temperatures to normal and break the heat exposure cycle. Cooling by evaporation is another option. This is done by placing the person near fans or in the shade and using a cool towel. If available, try using a spray bottle or misters to spray lukewarm water on exposed skin surfaces to help with cooling.

The foremost treatment for dehydration is prevention. Anticipate the need and increased fluid intake accordingly. Plan ahead and take extra water to outdoor events.

Try to replace fluids at a rate that equals the loss. Ensure infants, children and older adults have adequate drinking water or fluids available and are easily accessible.

Avoid exercise and exposure during high heat index days.

Listen to weather forecasts for high heat stress days, and plan events that must occur outside during times when temperatures are cooler such as early in the morning or in the evening.

Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes that reflect the sun and let sweat evaporate to help cool your skin.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat or use an umbrella for shade.

The number one thing is to stay hydrated. Break up exposure to hot temperatures and find air-conditioned or shady areas to cool down between exposures.

Spend time in cool areas, even for a couple of hours each day helps prevent the cumulative effects of high heat exposure.

Be extremely cautious in hot weather when the humidity is 75 percent or higher. The body is less likely to lose heat through sweating when the humidity is high.

It is actually best to avoid or delay intense physical activities or sports when it is exceptionally hot and humid. Avoid alcohol consumption when it is extremely hot because alcohol increases water loss and impairs one's ability to recognize the early signs associated with dehydration.

Don't take any chances with the health of you or your family. Be aware of the symptoms of dehydration and take measures to correct them or seek medical attention.