Enjoying the outdoors is one of the highlights of summertime. Whether you’re at a BBQ, hiking, working in the yard or soaking up some vitamin D, the likelihood that you’ll spend time in the sun is high. As a society, we’ve become more aware and hyper-vigilant about guarding against sun exposure by increasing our sunscreen usage and protecting our skin with hats and long sleeves. But there are other risks posed by time in the sun, including dehydration, heat heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Here are some facts:
- The body needs water to function properly. Dehydration happens when your body lacks the proper amount of fluids and electrolytes to keep working properly. Heat exhaustion is a more serious condition that happens when the body loses a great deal of water and salt. Left untreated, dehydration and heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition that can result in damage to the brain and/or other important organs.
- Dehydration can happen with as little as 1%-2% loss of your ideal water content. Dehydration can be serious and needed to be treated via intravenous (IV) fluids.
- The average person loses 90 ounces of water each day.
- It’s important to recognize the symptoms of mild dehydration and treat them immediately so they don’t become more serious. Thirst is the first signal that you’re behind the curve on keeping hydrated.
- Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can all occur indoors as well as out-of-doors.
- Heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature is elevated drastically. It can be fatal.
- Symptoms of dehydration and heat exhaustion include: headache, thirst, less-frequent urination, dry skin, fatigue, light-headedness, dizziness, confusion, dry mouth and mucous membranes, increased heart rate and breathing. In children, watch for listlessness and irritability, no wet diapers for several hours and no tears when crying.
All of these sun/heat-related illnesses can be prevented. Here are some tips:
- Increase your fluid intake, even when you’re not feeling thirsty. Your physician can tell you how much water you should consume each day, but a general rule is that the average person should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. It’s the 8×8 rule and easy to remember. Drink more if you’re outside and/or in the sun, exercising or it’s hot.
- Water is best, but sports drinks, smoothies and coconut water are also beneficial.
- Take frequent breaks when hiking, playing and exercising.
- Avoid vigorous exercise during the heat of the day.
- Stick to the shade as much as possible.
- Wear light weight, loose-fitting, light colored clothing that wicks the moisture from the body.
- Avoid sunburns by wearing sunscreen.
- Eat water-rich foods.
Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious risks anytime you spend time in the sun, but they don’t have to stop you from enjoying the summer. Awareness and prevention are more than half the battle. Be safe, be smart, and have fun!