Summer is drawing to a close, but our risk of heat-related illnesses is still very real. I found out about that firsthand a few weeks ago.
The weather had been hot, but it wasn’t a particularly busy day for me. I remember drinking fluids that day, but apparently not enough. That evening, while I was sitting on the porch, I suddenly felt tired, dizzy, and confused.
“I’m not fine” was the last thing I remember before I passed out for a few seconds. When I came to and against my urging, I was “okay” and was immediately transported to our local emergency room.
Diagnosis: dehydration. After feeding myself an hour on IV fluids and electrolytes, I felt much, much better.
According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration is simply the condition that occurs when we use or lose more fluids than we absorb. Without adequate hydration, the body cannot perform its normal functions such as temperature regulation and blood pressure control. Dehydration is especially dangerous for young children and older adults. (We older people naturally have a lower volume of fluid in our bodies.)
Heat stroke is considered the most serious heat-related illness, say Mayo’s experts. As with an overheated engine, it occurs when the body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, usually due to prolonged physical exertion in a hot environment. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, rapid breathing, racing heart, and headache. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention to avoid damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles.
Dehydration can contribute to heat stroke, and the people most at risk are those very young and over 65 years of age.
What can we do to avoid these conditions? I am for someone who takes this advice to heart:
Don’t be so busy that you forget about hydration all day. Keep water bottles in and around your vehicle no matter what you’re doing, indoors or outdoors. According to the National Academy of Medicine, women generally need nine servings, or 2.2 liters of fluid per day. Men need 13 servings or three liters.
Plain water and other beverages are among your fluid needs, including coffee, tea, fruit juice, milk, and other beverages. The diuretic effects of caffeine don’t make up for the fluid we get from these drinks, experts say.
Be very careful with excess alcohol, especially when it’s hot or humid outside. Alcohol can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. When you have that cold beer, make up for it one on one with the same amount of water.
If you’re exercising vigorously for more than an hour, consider drinks that contain electrolytes like potassium and sodium to replenish the loss. Orange juice is a great source of potassium, by the way.
(Barbara Quinn-Intermill is a registered nutritionist and certified diabetes educator for the Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital. She is the author of Quinn-Essential Nutrition (Westbow Press, 2015). Email [email protected])
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