Water is what fuels our basic functions. The human body is 60% water. Dehydration occurs when we sweat fluid out of our bodies and it is not being replaced. It can occur at any time of the year, but is most common during the summer months when people are doing activities outdoors in the hot sun. Children and older adults are most susceptible to dehydration. Regina Gonzalez, intern with Penn State Extension, offers the following tips to help prevent dehydration.
Signs of mild dehydration include dizziness or lightheadedness; dry mouth, lips and eyes; headache and fatigue. These symptoms are telling your body it is time to rehydrate. Severe dehydration, or heatstroke, occurs when the body’s internal temperature begins to reach unsafe levels. The skin will feel hot and sweating will stop. In this stage of dehydration, a person may pass out, begin to hallucinate, or even suffer seizures. If someone shows physical signs of dehydration it is important to get them indoors and have them lie down. Use ice packs and damp cloths to bring down their internal temperature. If a person is experiencing disorientation or unconsciousness, immediate medical assistance is necessary.
Luckily, preventing dehydration is simple. When spending time in the sun, it is crucial to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. If you will be outside for long periods of time, like when visiting the beach or park, make sure to take supplies with you so that you have easy access to hydration. Dehydration can occur even when participating in sedentary activities.
You should drink fluids all day, whether you are thirsty or not. It is recommended that adult males drink 3.7 liters (125 ounces) of fluid a day and adult females drink 2.7 liters (91 ounces) a day. For children ages 9 to 12, the recommended amount is 1.5 liters daily. You may need more or less based on your personal lifestyle and metabolism. These are only recommendations — check with your physician for more specific intake amounts. If the temperatures outside are high, these amounts should be at least doubled. Water is the best liquid to hydrate with, but sports drinks are also helpful as they replenish important electrolytes the body loses in sweat. However, sports drinks that are high in sugar should be avoided as they may have a reverse effect.
When performing physical activity, take frequent breaks in the shade. Try to schedule vigorous physical activity for parts of the day when the sun isn’t as strong, such as the early morning or late afternoon. The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Hydration should take place before, during, and after physical activity.
Part of preventing dehydration is staying cool in the warm weather. A good way of doing this is by dressing in light colors and loose-fitting clothing. Hats are also good for keeping the direct sunlight off of the head and face. In addition, sunglasses can be used to protect our eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays. It is also important to pay attention to how you are feeling. If you notice even slight signs of dehydration, you should replenish your fluids. Signs may be tricky to identify while participating in water sports since it is easy to become overheated without realizing it.
Keep these tips in mind and you will stay safe, hydrated and have fun.
If you have any questions on this topic, or any food safety questions, contact your local Penn State Extension Office.