Monday Medical: Avoid dehydration on hot days

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The “dog days” of August are nearly upon us, and if next month is anything like July, we’re going to be dealing with some sizzling temperatures. Remember to consume enough water to offset the dehydrating effects of heat and high altitude.

“Once you are thirsty, you have already begun to become dehydrated,” Yampa Valley Medical Center registered dietitian Cara Marrs said.

The National Institutes of Health reminds us that water regulates body temperature, moistens and protects tissues and lubricates our joints. Water protects organs, helps prevent constipation and lessens the burden on kidneys and liver by flushing out waste products.

It also helps transport materials in, out and around our body. It dissolves minerals and other nutrients and carries them, along with oxygen, to cells. Obviously, we all need to continually replenish our water supply for those processes to work correctly.

While most healthy bodies are good at regulating water, elderly people and young children are at higher risk of becoming dehydrated. So are individuals who are taking certain medications or exerting themselves physically.

Every time you breathe out, sweat or eliminate waste, you lose some fluid. The body compensates by releasing stores of water, mostly from muscles. And, of course, you get thirsty. That’s your body’s way of telling you it needs more water.

Any healthy person can become dehydrated on hot days. Dehydration also is a risk if you have been exercising hard and losing a lot of fluid very quickly.

Marrs said hydration is an often-overlooked part of sports nutrition. She pointed out that although water is the No. 1 fluid for hydration, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables also is recommended.

How much water does your body need to work properly?

A common recommendation is for an average person on an average day to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water. But those who are spending time in the hot sun or who have certain medical conditions, such as diarrhea, may need more than that.

Signs of dehydration in adults are being thirsty, urinating less often than usual, having dark-colored urine, having dry skin, feeling tired or dizzy, and fainting.

Babies and young children who experience dehydration may have a dry mouth and tongue or a fever. They can have dry diapers for three hours or more, cry without tears and appear unusually sleepy.

Infants and young toddlers are vulnerable because they can’t tell their parents when they’re thirsty. It also is important to keep in mind that elderly individuals can have a decreased sensitivity to thirst and accompanying greater risk for dehydration.

If you suspect dehydration, the National Institutes of Health recommends drinking small amounts of water throughout a period of time. Taking too much at once can overload the stomach and cause vomiting. Sports drinks can be helpful for people who exercise in the heat and lose a lot of minerals in sweat.

The best way to deal with dehydration is to prevent it. Let’s raise our glasses of water in a toast to the remaining days of summer.

Christine McKelvie is a writer/editor at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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