Picture the scene. You’ve left the cottage for the day, it’s lovely and hot, really hot. You don’t bother with water as your camera is so heavy…after a few hours your sweating and you feel terrible. You could be getting dehydrated. Be careful and look for the warning signs!!!
Signs of dehydration can include headaches, which would feel similar to a hangover as the cause is similar. A person may also experience muscle cramps, a very sudden episode of visual snow, hypotension (a decrease in blood pressure) and feeling dizzy or faint, possibly even passing out. If dehydration is untreated it can lead to delirium, unconsciousness, a swelling of the tongue and, in the most severe cases, it can result in death.
We kinda need this stuff!
When a person loses around 2% of their normal water volume, they will start to experience some of these symptoms of dehydration. The person will begin by having a thirst and feeling uncomfortable. They may even lose their appetite and their skin will start to lose moisture, possibly becoming very dry and flaky in appearance. Following this, the person may also become constipated. For athletes, dehydration results in a loss of performance by up to 30 per cent accompanied by low endurance, higher body temperatures, quicker onset of tiredness and fatigue and flushing. This highlights the body’s need for water and hydration.
Indications of mild dehydration include thirstiness, a decreased need to urinate or a decline in the volume of urine. Also darker urine than normal, bad mood, crying without the ability to produce tears, headache, dry mouth, feeling dizzy while standing and in some instances, insomnia could all signal a problem with dehydration.
You’ll have trouble sleeping…
Moderate to severe dehydration could result in the complete inability to pass urine at all. When at this stage, a person may experience lethargy and sleepiness, seizures, sunken eyes and fainting. In a young child, dehydration can also cause a sunken fontanel – the soft spot on their head.
The more water a person loses, the more severe these symptoms will become. The body tries to compensate so the heart and breathing rates increase while a person’s temperature is likely to rise as a result of a reduction in sweating. Once 5-6 per cent of the body’s supply of water has been lost a person is likely to feel sleepy and groggy with a severe headache, queasiness and tingling limbs (paresthesia).
With fluid loss of 10-15 per cent, muscles are likely to begin convulsing, skin will become wrinkled and shrivelled, vision will darken, and there will be an extreme reduction in urine output which is likely to be painful. At this point delirium may set in. If a person loses more than 15 per cent of fluids in the body it is usually fatal.
You’ll begin to think you’re a Howard Moon impersonator
When your body reaches fifty years old, its thirst sensation diminishes and this continues with age. It is common for elderly people to experience varying degrees of dehydration. It is the combination of dehydration and hyperthermia which causes many senior citizens to die during hot weather conditions.
The best way to treat minor dehydration is to drink plenty of fluids and prevent further loss of fluids. Oral Rehydration Solutions and sports drinks are preferable to water as a means of rehydration, but all drinks should be sipped slowly. Drinking only clear liquids and avoiding solid foods should assist in stopping fluid loss through vomiting and diarrhoea.
Clear fluids are best
For more severe cases of dehydration, recovery is achieved through replenishment of lost water and electrolytes – either given orally or intravenously in hospital. Fresh water is a necessary part of this process. If a person was dehydrated in the desert or at sea they could not rehydrate by drinking urine (which I would imagine would be the absolute last option anyway) or seawater which has too high a salt content causing the kidneys to shut down. It should go without saying that drinking alcohol will not aid rehydration, rather it will worsen dehydration. In most cases a full recovery is the norm; it is only in extreme cases that dehydration can be fatal.
Unnecessary sweating should also be avoided when dehydrated as it is a waste of water. If only dry food is available, it is best not to eat as water is needed for digestion.
I’d avoid crackers for a first meal!
Of course, as with most things, prevention is better than a cure. The best route to preventing dehydration is to drink plenty of water on a regular basis. If a lot of water is lost through sweating, water must be drunk to replace the lost fluids. The water that is lost should be concurrent with the replacement water as the body cannot tolerate too much or too little body water.
On an average day in the United Kingdom, a person’s body will lose around 2.5 litres of water. This can be as sweat through skin, as water vapour through the lungs, or through passing urine. Some water is also lost through bowel movements. In warmer weather it is likely that more fluids will be lost in quicker periods of time and therefore water should be drank regularly to replace this. It is useful to use urine output as an indication of whether or not dehydration is occurring in more humid conditions or during energetic activity. If a full bladder is developed at least every 3-5 hours and the urine is light in colour then it is unlikely that dehydration is occurring. However, if the urine is darker in colour or urination is only occurring after many hours or perhaps not at all, then drinking water alone may not be enough to maintain adequate hydration.
This is my apple juice, by the way…
So, making a habit of drinking enough, but not too much, water on a daily basis will help to prevent dehydration. Remember that if it is warmer or you are partaking in more strenuous activity, you will need to replace the increase in lost fluids and sports drinks may be more adequate in these cases than water alone. Whether engaging in strenuous activity or not, proper hydration on a regular basis is the key to maintaining the proper amount of water in the body at all times, and avoiding the affects of dehydration.