8 important questions about dehydration answered just in time for Summer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – The summer months are a great time to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. But as the temperatures continue to rise, it is important to stay hydrated.

From June to August, the average daily temperature in the state of Alabama tends to hover right around 78 degrees, with daily highs averaging out to around 88 degrees. And remember these are averages. Anyone who has spent one summer in Alabama knows to expect days in the 90s here and there, and even some days that can crack 100 degrees.

Average daily and max temperatures in Alabama during the Summer (NOAA)
Average daily and max temperatures in Alabama during the Summer (NOAA)

 

We want you to enjoy the summer months, but we also want you to stay safe. Below you’ll find a few important questions about dehydration answered for you.

What is dehydration?

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) says that dehydration occurs when your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. It can be mild, moderate, or even severe, based on how much of your body’s fluid is lost or not replaced. And severe dehydration is a life-threatening emergency.

What causes dehydration?

The focus here is on dehydration due to extreme heat/physical activity in the hot summer months. It is important to note, though, that there are more instances that cause dehydration. Ultimately it’s caused by the loss of too much fluid, not drinking enough fluids, or both.

That means dehydration can also be caused by a loss of fluids from: fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or urinating too much. It could also be caused by you not getting enough fluids because: you’re sick and don’t feel like eating or drinking anything, you’re nauseated, or you have a sore throat or mouth sores.

How much water should I consume each day?

Remember the old saying – drink 8 glasses of water a day? That’s close, but not entirely correct. According to the NLM, the average person on an average day needs about 3 quarts of water, which is around 12 cups. To see even more of a breakdown (including sex and age) click here.

But during the course of the summer, especially when out in the hot sun, it is recommended that you consume more.

Courtesy: Shutterstock
Courtesy: Shutterstock

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

Signs of mild to moderate dehydration include the following:

  • Thirst
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Not urinating much
  • Darker yellow urine
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps

Signs of severe dehydration include:

  • Not urinating, or having very dark yellow or amber-colored urine
  • Dry, shriveled skin
  • Irritability or confusion
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sunken eyes
  • Listlessness
  • Shock (not enough blood flow through the body)
  • Unconsciousness or delirium

How do you treat dehydration?

You can treat dehydration a number of ways. In cases of mild dehydration, simple re-hydration is recommended by drinking fluids. You can try sipping water or sucking on ice cubes. You can also try drinking water or sports drinks that contain electrolytes. You should never take salt tablets though, they can cause serious complications.

As for children, directions for giving food and fluids will tend to differ according to the cause of the dehydration. That is why it is important to consult your child’s doctor.

While researching this information, places like NLM and Johns Hopkins Medicine (JHM) were adamant that serious dehydration should be treated as a medical emergency. This means that hospitalization, along with intravenous fluids, would be necessary. In the case of serious dehydration, immediate action should be taken.

Courtesy: Shutterstock
Courtesy: Shutterstock

How do you prevent dehydration?

Above we talked about treating dehydration, but why not just work to prevent it from the start? There are a few ways you do so. Below are some examples from JHM:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially when working or playing in the sun.
  • Make sure you are taking in more fluid than you are losing.
  • Try to schedule physical outdoor activities for the cooler parts of the day.
  • Drink appropriate sports drinks to help maintain electrolyte balance.

And for infants and young children:

  • Solutions, like as Pedialyte, will help maintain electrolyte balance during illness or heat exposure.
  • Do not try to make fluid and salt solutions at home for children.

What to do in the extreme heat?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists a 3 step approach for managing the extreme heat.

Courtesy: CDC
Courtesy: CDC

Stay Cool – You should work to keep your body temperature cool to avoid any heat-related illness. Below are some tips from the CDC:

  • Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible.
  • Find an air-conditioned shelter.
  • Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device.
  • Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Take cool showers or baths.
  • Check on those most at-risk twice a day.

Stay Hydrated – Remember you should be taking in more fluid than you are losing and you’ll lose more in these hot months.

  • Drink more water than usual.
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more fluids.
  • Drink from 2 to 4 cups of water every hour while working or exercising outside.
  • Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar.
  • Remind others to drink enough water.

Stay Informed – Staying up to date on forecasts, advisories, and symptoms of heat-related illnesses will help you plan your activities accordingly.

  • You can get a look at the latest forecast, as well as, heat advisories in ourStorm Track section. You can also keep informed on the go with the freeStorm Track app
  • You can bookmark this article to have a quick guide for heat illness symptoms.

Who is most at risk?

Remember, anyone can become dehydrated if they lose too many fluids. But there are certain people who are at a greater risk of dehydration.

  • Infants and children
    • Infants and children are especially vulnerable because of their relatively small body weights and high turnover of water and electrolytes.
    • Never leave infants or children in a parked car.
    • Dress infants and children in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
    • Seek medical care immediately if your child has symptoms of symptoms of heat-related illness.
  • People age 65+
    • The older we get the more susceptible to dehydration we become. This is because of several reasons: the body’s ability to conserve water is reduced, your thirst sense becomes less acute, and you’re less able to respond to changes in temperature.
  • People with chronic illnesses
    • People with a chronic medical condition are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature.
    • Having uncontrolled or untreated diabetes puts you at high risk of dehydration.
    • Other chronic illnesses, such as kidney disease and heart failure, also make you more likely to become dehydrated.
  • Athletes
    • People who exercise in extreme heat are more likely to become dehydrated and get heat-related illness.
    • During exercise, your body may lose more water than it can absorb. With every hour you exercise, your fluid debt increases.
    • Dehydration is also cumulative over a period of days, meaning you can become dehydrated with even a moderate exercise routine if you don’t drink enough to replace what you lose on a daily basis.
    • Also more humid air means sweat can’t evaporate and cool you as quickly as it normally does, which can lead to an increased body temperature and the need for more fluids.
  • People in higher altitudes
    • Living, working and exercising at high altitudes (generally defined as above 8,200 feet, or about 2,500 meters) can cause a number of health problems, including dehydration.
  • People who work outside
    • Just like those who work out in the extreme heat, those who work in it face greater risk for dehydration.
    • Here are a few ways to prevent it for workers in the heat.
      • Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.
      • Avoid alcohol or liquids containing large amounts of sugar.
      • Wear and reapply sunscreen as indicated on the package.
      • Ask if tasks can be scheduled for earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat.
      • Wear a brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
      • Spend time in air-conditioned buildings during breaks and after work.
      • Encourage co-workers to take breaks to cool off and drink water.
  • Low income households

This article uses information from the following organizations:

This story was originally published by WIAT, News 4 sister station and Media General Contributor. 

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