Summer may be coming to an end, but our risk for heat-related illness is still very real. I learned that firsthand a few weeks ago.
The weather had been hot, but it was not a particularly strenuous day for me. I remember drinking fluids that day, though apparently not enough. That evening while sitting on the porch, I suddenly felt tired, dizzy and confused.
“I’m not feeling well” was the last thing I remember before I passed out for a few seconds. When I came to and against my insistence I was “fine,” I was promptly transported to our local emergency room.
Diagnosis: dehydration. After an hour of feeding me 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 fluid than we take in. Deprived of adequate fluids, the body is unable to perform its normal functions, like temperature regulation and blood-pressure control. Dehydration is especially dangerous for young children and older adults. (We older folks naturally have a lower volume of fluid in our bodies.)
Heatstroke is considered the most serious of heat-related illnesses, say the experts at Mayo. Like an overheated engine, it occurs when the body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, usually because of prolonged physical exertion in a hot environment. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, rapid breathing, racing heartbeat and headache. Heatstroke requires immediate medical attention to avoid damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles.
Dehydration can contribute to heatstroke, and again, those at highest risk are the very young and folks older than 65.
What can we do to avoid these conditions? I for one am going to heed this advice:
Don’t get so busy that you forget to drink fluids throughout the day. Keep bottled water in your vehicle and close by, whatever you’re doing, inside or out. According to the National Academy of Medicine, women generally need nine (8-ounce) servings, or 2.2 liters, of fluids per day. Men need 13 (8-ounce) servings, or 3 liters.
Plain water and other beverages count toward your fluid requirements, including coffee, tea, fruit juice, milk and other beverages. The diuretic effect of caffeine does not offset the fluid we get from these beverages, say experts.
Be very careful about excess alcohol, especially when it’s hot or humid outside. Alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. If you do have that cold beer, balance it out one for one with the same amount of water.
If exercising vigorously for more than an hour, consider beverages that contain electrolytes like potassium and sodium to replenish what you lose. Orange juice, by the way, is a great source of potassium.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.