Oh No! Not Me!

June 30, 2015

The weather can suddenly become very hot. Nature adapts to this kind of change more skillfully than humans do.  We may not recognize that even if our daily activities do not change, our body’s need for water does, if the weather becomes very hot or humid, especially for prolonged periods. The body needs to replace the water it loses in order to function properly. Without replacement, dehydration can occur. This can cause a life-threatening condition disrupting electrolytes (like sodium and potassium) and can lead to changes in the heart’s rhythm. It can make you so disoriented, confused and weak that you may not recognize that your body needs water! It is a common cause of trips to the emergency room during summer months, especially in older adults, although it can happen at any time of the year, to anyone of any age and is a common outcome of foodborne illness.  Dehydration is preventable if you take the appropriate actions. 

Water in the body is essential to the functioning of the organs. When your body loses a significant amount of water, you may begin to feel sick. This is dehydration. Prevention is based on a simple concept: You need to replace the water that your body loses. In the early stages of dehydration, you might be able to halt the process by replacing fluids and controlling fluid loss. However, with severe or frequent symptoms as described above, fluid loss may need to be replaced with intravenous fluids, which can hydrate the body more rapidly than just drinking water can.

We often do not recognize the symptoms of dehydration. If it were as simple as “I’m thirsty”, then we would not have a problem.  Thirst may be a symptom of dehydration, but this symptom can occur late in the process of dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint, irritability, confusion, dry mouth, weakness, sticky mouth, less urine production or dark, strong urine.

There are reasons why older persons are more likely to become dehydrated than younger adults are. One reason is that many older people choose not to drink in order to reduce trips to the bathroom, especially if they have a problem with incontinence (an inability to hold urine.) Additionally, the elderly may not feel as thirsty as younger people may. Some may have reduced kidney function or others may have a problem that makes it hard to get a drink (like painful walking) or difficulty swallowing.  Medications that increase urine output may affect some people. Last, many people do not believe that they can become dehydrated or may not understand what dehydration is.

Dehydration is a serious health concern!  Take action to prevent the problem. Drink lots of fluids during the warm weather months, even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you have been exercising, working outdoors, vomiting or have had diarrhea it is important to replace fluids. Heed health warnings when the weather gets hot. Exert yourself carefully when it is very hot, taking frequent rest/cooling off breaks. Water is by far the first choice for fluid intake. Juice and sports drinks may help, but watch the sugar. Try a cool treat like a popsicle.   Alcoholic beverages, sugary and/or carbonated drinks should be avoided.

For more information, Quinnipiack Valley Health District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528 or request by email, dculligan@qvhd.org