Dehydration is when your body is losing more fluids than it is taking in. Often heat related, its other names are “heat stress”, “heat exhaustion,” “heat cramps,” and “heat stroke,” but it can occur even in cold temperatures. It’s a common problem, especially among young children, people exercising, and sick people. Thankfully, it’s usually fairly preventable.
1.Prevent it by drinking lots of water daily! By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Thirst can signal a water loss of 1% of body weight. Light-headedness can occur with as little as a 2% water loss.
Water contains no calories and is great for your health in other ways. The amount of water you need is dependent on body weight. Hospitals use a formula to compute water intake needs, because even a patient in a coma needs water! For an adult weighing 150#, 8 oz. of water every hour for 8-10 hours is about right, in a temperate climate, with a sedentary lifestyle. That works out to about 1/2 gallon of water per day. On a hot day, that can increase by 16-32 oz. Add in strenuous exercise, and intake needs can rise by another quart or more, per hour.
To figure out how much water you need in a day, follow the “half rule” and drink half your body weight (although, in ounces, not pounds.) For example, somebody who weighs 140 lbs needs about 70 ounces of water in a day.
You lose water in many different ways: urine, sweat, feces, and even breathing! Even if you are sleeping, water is being consumed by your body’s functions.
2.Dress for the weather to make sure that you’re not sweating more than you need to. If it’s a hot, humid day, wear lighter clothes. Dress like desert dwellers do: light weight and light colored clothing that covers your skin and breathes reflects and insulates you from the sun.
3.Water load when needed. If you’re going to participate in a sport or a strenuous activity, then drink up before hand (“water loading”). Then drink at regular intervals (around 20 minutes or so) during the activity.
4.Keep an eye open for symptoms. The most common signs of dehydration are:
- Cracked lips, or a whitish deposit
- Dizziness or lightheadedness, feeling faint
- Dry, sticky mouth
- Nausea or vomiting
- Producing less urine or darker urine
- Stomach or leg cramping
- Non-traumatic nosebleeds (minute cracks in the nasal tissue) which can be made more severe by blood-thinner medications
- Feeling hot (Body temperature 99-102 degrees Farenheit)
5.Take breaks when you show signs of dehydration. If you experience any of the symptoms above, then rest for a while in a cool area and drink plenty of water. Remove clothing that constricts blood flow, or air circulation. Remove dark colored clothing that absorbs heat. Remove clothing that doesn’t breathe, such as plastics, or tightly woven garments. If you are feeling nauseous, or have already vomited, begin with sips of water, and keep sipping, even if you vomit again. As you begin to tolerate water, change sips to mouthfuls. To replace lost electrolytes, add diluted, non-caffienated sports drinks, or an apple, orange and a banana. Give nothing by mouth to an unconscious, or barely conscious person.
6.Use wet towels or a water mist on the skin to aid in cooling.Water immersion, such as sitting in water, is OK as long as the body’s core is not chilled, such as a brief dip in a pool.
Remember: it’s not the water you get on you, but the water you get IN you that counts
7.Avoid any intentional dehydration. Some exercise equipment, and some weight loss preparations, achieve their “results” by dehydration. These include the rubber belly bands that cause sweating, and the “colon cleansers” and “loose 10 pounds a week” formulas that cause water loss, and not much else. Athletes have been known to use them to make a lower weight class, since water weighs 8.3 lbs per gallon. Once weighed, they then drink to replace the water lost. This is not a good idea for most of us.
8.Realize that leg cramps while exercising, or following exercise, are an exception. The cramping is caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the muscle, with insufficiently fluid blood to remove it. Staying still only pools this blood in the legs, adding to the problem. A recovery process called “hot walking” is best. As you drink water, you walk, even if it’s painful, and the steps are tiny, or even if you need the support of another person to start. You’ll probably need 16-24 oz. of water, and about 5-10 minutes of walking to see results, and another 5-10 minutes for full recovery. You will be amazed at the results! Massage and stretching offer little benefit.
9. Look out for diabetes-related dehydration. Diabetes is another illness that can dehydrate you. An overabundance of sugar (a “diabetic coma”) will increase urination as your body attempts to decrease the glucose in your blood. If you urinate frequently, see your doctor, who can tell quickly if diabetes is present. “Adult diabetes” (Type 2 diabetes) often caused by obesity and poor eating habits, is one of the most frequent undiagnosed diseases, and with the rise of pediatric obesity is now being seen more frequently in children. Treatment is often achieved by weight loss and diet and exercise changes.
10.Combat the situation if you’re sick.Dehydration can often occur with a stomach ailment. One loses lots of fluids through vomiting and diarrhea. So if you’re sick, you may not feel like eating or drinking anything. But your best bet is to take tiny sips of room-temperature, clear liquids. Chicken broth (AKA “Jewish penicillin”) is a great choice, and there is some science to support it. Sixteen ounces of water with a tablespoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of salt, replaces electrolytes as well (Pedialyte is a commercial version). Ice pops are a good choice, too. As you can tolerate it, a banana adds needed potassium.