MRH Living Well Column: Feeling Hot? Stay Hydrated and Avoid Heat Exhaustion
When the thermometer rises near triple digits, it’s hard to stay cool, especially if your home doesn’t have air conditioning, or you work or exercise outdoors. To avoid getting dehydrated or developing heat exhaustion, follow these tips.
The higher the temperature, the more water you need
In our hot, dry climate, you might not feel or look sweaty, but you most likely are. Sweat evaporates quickly off your skin in dry heat, causing you to lose more water than you think. That’s why it’s important to drink more water on hot days.
“The recommendation now is to drink 88 ounces of water a day. Some people find that overwhelming, so I advise them to break it down into eight 8-ounce glasses throughout the day. If you are exercising or working outside, you need more. For example, if you go on a two-hour hike in the heat, you need at least a liter of water on your hike,” said Jennifer Schmitt, PA-C, Memorial Regional Health Medical Center.
A good way to remember to drink water is to drink a full glass right when you wake up and a glass before every meal. Drink water before, during and after exercise. Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day, especially when you are outdoors.
“Let your thirst guide you so you are not drinking too much, but if you are extremely thirsty, you are already dehydrated,” Schmitt added.
The signs of dehydration include feeling extremely thirsty like you want to guzzle water, and sometimes experiencing muscle cramps, nausea and dizziness. These are the same symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Finally, choose water instead of a sugary drink, caffeine or alcohol. Water is easiest for your body to assimilate. Sports drinks are OK if you are exercising a lot, but even then, water is usually best.
“When drinking alcohol outside in the heat, limit your intake and when you do drink, keep it at a 1:1 ratio—one alcoholic drink to one glass of water,” Schmitt advised.
Exercise indoors on hot days
You can’t ward off heat exhaustion simply by staying hydrated when you are out in the heat. Being active on hot days can be a set up for heat exhaustion. If you are sweating profusely, it’s hard for your body to keep on top of the water loss, so stop and take frequent breaks in the shade, and drink water. It’s best to exercise indoors—at the gym or in the swimming pool on hot days—or save your workouts for early morning or late evening.
“If you start feeling light-headed or have a headache, or experience muscle cramps, dizziness, irritability or a fast heartbeat, stop what you are doing and seek shade, drink water, pour water on you head, or have someone fan you. A good trick is to wear a hat and when you are hot, soak it in water and put it back on,” Schmitt said.
Check on your homebound elderly neighbors
Homebound and elderly folks are more susceptible to health problems from heat exhaustion, especially without air conditioning in their homes. Some medications cause dehydration, adding to the problem. On really hot days, check on your elderly loved ones. Give them a water bottle to carry around, turn on fans, and get them out to a store or elsewhere for an air-conditioned break from the heat.
Take precautions with babies
Babies have a hard time regulating temperature, and they can’t tell you when they are hot. Dress them lightly and keep them in the shade. If you are breastfeeding, drink lots of water on hot days.
“Most babies get water from breastfeeding or formula in a bottle, but it’s okay to give a baby a couple ounces of water when it’s hot outside,” Schmitt concluded.
Jennifer Schmitt, PA-C, sees patients at the MRH Medical Clinic. She works in the Walk-in Clinic which has extended hours—until 10 pm on Mondays and Saturdays and 7 pm Tuesdays through Fridays—and no appointments necessary. For more, call 970-826-2400.