FORT LEE, Va. -- Adequate hydration is vitally important when working and playing outdoors.
Many assume additional water intake is only necessary when it’s extremely hot outside or when engaged in highly strenuous activities. What is actually true is that any time the body sweats – which can occur in cooler weather and while lying on the beach – it is releasing fluids that cool through evaporation and keep important organs from overheating. This results in a lot of lost moisture that needs to be replenished.
The human body is comprised of approximately 50-60 percent water. In addition to acting as a cooling system, it maintains the proper balance of electrolytes to allow bodies to function properly. Our systems and organs depend on water for regulation of cell health and vitality. This affects everything from the brain, heart and lungs to kidneys, muscles and skin.
“Hydration is key, not only for the summer months but also for health needs all year long,” said Kimberly Schoen, Family Medicine Clinic nurse manager.
Even mild dehydration can make individuals feel quite ill. It can bring on an upset stomach, irritability, a mild headache, achy joints and overall decreased performance. Moderate dehydration can cause muscle and abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, profuse sweating, dizziness and confusion. When urine is dark, rather than a light yellow or clear color, it’s a good indicator the body is not getting enough water.
Severe dehydration is a dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Sometimes when dehydrated, a person cannot sweat enough to cool their body. High humidity also can make it difficult for sweat to evaporate and keep an individual cool. When sweating is not sufficient to bring down the body’s temperature, it can rise to dangerously high levels, causing heat stroke.
Signs and symptoms of heat stroke are extreme exhaustion, disorientation or unconsciousness, severe cramping of muscles, seizures, dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting. The body’s cooling system has shut down completely in these instances, and skin will feel hot and dry. This is a life-threatening medical emergency – call 911 if someone is seen exhibiting these symptoms.
All members of Team Lee must plan ahead to prevent heat injuries. Stay informed about weather conditions, and avoid strenuous activities between 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. on extremely hot days. Drink water or sports drinks every 20 minutes. Keep water available, and wear loose, light-colored clothing. Parents should take their kids into consideration as well because they are just as susceptible to heat injury and less likely to take hydration breaks that will interrupt their fun.
“If you know a day of strenuous outdoor activities is coming up, please ‘pre-hydrate’ by beginning to drink more water the day or two beforehand to build up the fluids in the body,” Schoen said.
“It’s also important to understand the difference between regular water and sports drinks. When exercising in hot and humid conditions, athletes may benefit from sports drinks in a couple of ways. It replaces the fluid and electrolytes lost when sweating, and the carbohydrate calories fuel muscles, as well. Energy drinks, however, can cause dehydration, and it is recommended not to load up on them before or during increased physical activity.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals on a low-salt diet, have diabetes or high blood pressure, or any other chronic conditions talk to their doctor before drinking sports beverages.
Those who are not “water drinkers,” can often get adequate hydration from alternative sources like coconut water, milk, fruit-infused water, probiotic water, guayusa tea, beet juice, aloe water and low- or no-sugar smoothies. Caffeine-based products like coffee or colas are not a good option because they will actually contribute to dehydration, as is the case with alcohol in any form.
Pay attention to heat index warnings, especially heat categories 4 and 5, and respond by increasing periods of rest in cool, shaded areas or in an air-conditioned space. As a general rule, take a break for 30-40 minutes after every 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise or work.
There’s an app for everything – including staying safe in the heat. Downloading the OSHA-NOISH Heat Safety Tool is another way to stay informed about weather conditions to calculate the heat index, or get reminders to drink and stay hydrated and plan rest breaks. To download the tool, visit www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html.
Kenner Army Health Clinic wants to ensure all community members have a safe and fun summer. To schedule an appointment at the clinic, call the patient line at 1-866-533-5242. For after-hours care, use the Nurse Advice Line at 1-800-TRICARE and choose option 1.