With the hottest time of year now here, spending time outdoors means potentially suffering the effects of dehydration, a condition that occurs when the body loses more fluids –mostly water- than it takes in. In cases of persistent dehydration, the amount of water moving out of the cells and through the skin exceeds the amount an individual takes in through drinking.
People lose water every day, whether from the vapor in our breath to the urine, stool, and sweat produced daily. In addition to losing water, the body also loses small amounts of salt daily as well. When the body loses too much water, you become dehydrated and the body falls out of balance. Extreme cases of dehydration can even cause death.
To stay healthy and safe while outside during the coming heat wave of summer’s hottest months, it’s important to understand both the causes and symptoms of dehydration, and when to seek medical care.
Causes of Dehydration
A variety of conditions can lead to the rapid fluid loss that causes dehydration, including:
- Excessive heat exposure and vigorous exercise on hot, humid days
- Increased urination, diarrhea, and vomiting caused by infection
- No access to safe drinking water
- Conditions that cause significant injuries to the skin, such as sores, burns, or rash. More water is lost through damaged skin than healthy skin.
Knowing your risk factors for dehydration will go a long way towards helping you understand when to take seriously the condition’s symptoms.
Symptoms of Dehydration
The symptoms and signs of dehydration can rage from the minor to the severe and include:
- Increased thirst
- Swollen tongue and dry mouth
- Muscle fatigue
- Heart palpitations
- Decreased urine output
- Inability to sweat
You can judge the state of how dehydrated your body may be by examining the color of your urine. Darkly concentrated urine of a deep amber or yellow color can serve to indicate that your body has started to run low on fluid. If you notice your urine color darkening, you should take steps to increase your fluid intake.
Should you experience any of the symptoms of dehydration while outside, move indoors immediately or seek a shaded area to refresh. While you need to intake fluid before you can offset the effects of dehydration, removing yourself from the sun will help decrease how quickly you continue to lose water.
Seeking Medical Attention
In extreme cases of dehydration, you may need to seek immediate medical attention. If you or someone you are with experiences the following symptoms when dehydrated, emergency medical care is required.
- Fever over 103 degrees
- Trouble breathing
- Abdominal or chest pains
- Failure to urinate for at least 12 hours
Once admitted, the attending physician will run a few simple exams to determine the extent of your dehydration. Fortunately, most cases can be treated through the administration of a simple IV solution.
Remember, you can decrease your risk of dehydration by taking shelter in the shade during the hottest parts of the day, and by always carrying water with when outdoors for extended periods of time.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Dale Nelson, a Vancouver, WA dentist.