Between 1999 and 2009, there were 7,233 heat-related deaths in the U.S. 94 percent occurred between May and September, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Certain demographics and lifestyles are more prone to heat related conditions, such as the ill, children, elderly and extremely active. But for the average person, two of heat-related conditions, dehydration and hyponatremia, are preventable.
This is good news. After all, summer weather (assuming that it’s not atrociously hot or humid) allows us to enjoy the outdoors. Here’s how to enjoy it safely:
Signs and symptoms of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
Although somewhat interrelated, dehydration and hyponatremia, or sodium imbalance, are different ailments. Mild to moderate dehydration results in thirst, dry mouth, darker urine, irritability, headaches and muscle cramps, but the symptoms of severe dehydration include:
- Shriveled skin
- Sunken eyes
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Rapid heartbeat and/or breathing
- Unconsciousness or delirium
While hyponatremia shares some symptoms with dehydration, such as irritability, confusion, and fatigue, more severe symptoms include:
- Muscle spasms
Preventing and treating dehydration
Despite the severity of the conditions, dehydration and hyponatremia are preventable. Hydration begins before you even open the door by eating water-rich fruits and vegetables, trading a soda or sugar-rich beverage for an herbal tea or water and simply making water available to drink throughout the day by carrying a water bottle. Overall, the general consensus is to drink at least eight cups of water a day in normal conditions.
Once outside, it’s even more vital to continue to drink water – even when you’re not thirsty. The Department of Labor advises workers to consume four cups an hour during hot weather, and these recommendations translate to other outdoor activities for the everyday person.
Preventing and treating hyponatremia
Preventing hyponatremia is more complex. Sodium imbalances occur when bodies excrete more sodium through sweat than they are taking in. Because the proportion of sodium in bodies’ is crucial, drinking large quantities of water in an attempt to counteract symptoms can be dangerous because it furthers the imbalance. Overall, the simplest ways to prevent imbalance are consuming sports drinks in addition to water and for the active or athletes, taking a salt pill before the physical activity.
Overall, all able-bodied individuals have the means necessary to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. While special populations need to take extra precautions during the summer heat, the average, healthy person can enjoy the outdoors by making a conscious effort to drink water, replenish nutrients and avoid unnecessary time in the heat.