Summertime weather entices most everyone to spend more time outside. But along with sunshine can come excessive heat, and if your body becomes overheated, it can also suffer the repercussions of dehydration.
On hot days, and particularly during and after extensive exercise, keeping your body hydrated can be the difference between a beautiful day outside and one spent in the hospital.
Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk of dehydration. Infants’ and toddlers’ bodies contain a high percentage of water, and if they do not drink enough, they can easily lose necessary fluid. “Seniors are also at risk and may experience lightheadedness or feel faint when dehydrated,” said Martin Kabongo, M.D., Ph.D., Family Medicine, UCSD Healthcare Scripps Ranch Clinic. As the body ages, it naturally slows down; maintaining normal body temperature becomes more difficult for the body. For these reasons, older adults should avoid high temperatures.
Dehydration does not discriminate. Even older children and younger adults are susceptible to dehydration if they are not careful about replenishing fluids.
Dehydration results from excessive perspiration, failure to drink enough fluids, or a combination of the two. Especially if you are sweating a lot, be sure to increase your intake of sodium to keep your electrolytes in balance. Symptoms of dehydration include decreased urination, a dry or sticky mouth, failure to produce tears, sunken eyes, and lethargy.
“Sweating, strenuous exercise or not drinking water can cause dehydration. Body muscles can begin to get tired and a person may experience leg cramps or feel faint,” noted Kabongo.
Not to be taken lightly, dehydration can have even more severe repercussions. When you are dehydrated, your blood pressure may drop, particularly when you stand up from a prone position. At the same time, your pulse may speed up, and you may even go into shock. Severe, untreated dehydration can lead to seizures or brain damage and may even be fatal.
If dehydration isn’t treated soon enough, symptoms become more serious and may require IV fluids and hospitalization. If you believe you may be dehydrated, you should contact your health care practitioner if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- unusual headache
- muscle cramps
- impaired judgment
Preventing dehydration altogether, or at least treating it early, can help you avoid a trip to the emergency room.
Mild dehydration is easily treated by drinking small amounts of fluid frequently over a period of time. Drinks or ice pops with electrolytes (sodium and potassium, for example) are particularly helpful, especially for infants and children, as they help correct the electrolyte imbalance attributed to dehydration. Sports drinks can help correct electrolyte imbalance, but they also contain a lot of sugar; your pharmacy may have an electrolyte solution that provides a better option.
The best way to treat dehydration is to avoid it altogether. If you know you’ll be outside for long periods on a hot day, be sure to drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty yet. When exercising in the heat, bring along a bottle of water and replenish your fluids regularly both during and after your workout.
Keeping yourself hydrated can keep you happy—and healthy—on a hot summer day.
Reviewed July 19, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle