Summer heat, too much alcohol, too much time in the sun, and not drinking enough water can be a dangerous combination. Even if they aren't consuming alcohol, many people end up in the emergency room each year due to dehydration. Older adults and children are most susceptible to dehydration as temperatures rise. In addition, those undergoing cancer treatments may also be more susceptible to dehydration.
When you don't drink enough water, your body holds onto every drop of moisture it has. This is when you hear about someone who doesn't sweat. If your body doesn't have any extra moisture, it won't want to release any to sweat. People who are dehydrated will also notice that their urine is darker and may have more of an odor. When your body is dehydrated, your eyes may feel sticky or you may have some loss of vision. You may also feel light-headed or dizzy.
Your body needs water for its metabolic processes and to break down the food you eat. Without enough water, your body has to work harder to keep going, so you may feel more tired than usual if you are dehydrated. Those who are severely dehydrated could faint or temporarily lose consciousness. If you have other medical conditions, those may worsen if you are dehydrated. Some studies have also shown a connection between dehydration and the body's ability to recover from transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke).
The solution seems relatively simple - drink more water! However, it is important to mention that you should drink water regularly over the course of the day. If you drink large amounts of water just at one point in the day, you are still susceptible to heat stroke. One good way to make sure you are drinking throughout the day is to carry a reusable water bottle wherever you go. This will allow you to sip water at any point in the day. Refill the bottle three to four times, and you are probably close to hitting the recommended daily intake of 8 to 12 cups of water.
Also be sure to cool yourself down regularly. If you work outside in the heat during the day, be sure to drink extra water and relax in a cool spot in the evenings.
Older people on diuretics, blood pressure medication, antidepressants and other drugs are more susceptible to dehydration and should limit their time in the sun. Make sure your air conditioning is working properly so you can stay inside on really hot days.
Keep an eye on older family members and children to make sure they are drinking throughout the day. And make sure to limit their time in hot cars. The temperature inside a car can easily be 10 degrees or more higher than the outside temperature, even with the windows cracked open. Never leave an older adult, a child or a pet in a hot car for any amount of time. They dehydrate quickly and could faint or even die.
Stay cool this summer, and be sure to drink your water.
Tips for increasing water intake:
• Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to plain water to add variety
• Keep a bottle water handy on your desk or in your bag
• Add ice cubes made with fresh fruit to a glass of water
• Drink a glass of water with each meal and between meals
• Drink water before, during and after exercise.
Kevin Bristowe, MD, is a doctor with Sussex Emergency Associates in Beebe's Emergency Department. He is the medical director of emergency services. For more information, go to www.beebehealthcare.org.