Drink up, or dehydration might catch you by surprise
We seem to forget how important drinking water is to staying healthy.
An older relative visiting us on a trip through Colorado told how not drinking enough water while she was in Paonia had landed her in the hospital with dehydration.
From childhood through middle-age, drinking water when you are thirsty usually gives your system as much water as it requires. But if adults over 60 drink water only when thirsty, chances are they are getting about 90 percent of the fluid they need.
Simply stated, dehydration is the loss of water and salts essential for normal body function.
Seniors and even younger people visiting our area from climates with higher humidity don’t realize how easy it is to become dehydrated here in our drought-parched western Colorado.
Visitors and residents alike need to make it a practice of drinking water on a regular basis, thirsty or not, especially with the record high temperatures we have been experiencing throughout Colorado.
Those who exercise outdoors this time of year, whatever activity it might be, significantly increase the need for water intake.
Often you don’t notice the first symptoms of mild dehydration: decreased coordination, fatigue and impaired judgment. Remember, the ability of our body to cool off decreases as we sweat less. Heat exhaustion usually comes next in only a few hours.
By drinking enough water during frequent and long rest breaks, heat exhaustion can be self-treated or avoided. Eating salty foods or drinking an electrolyte solution like Gatorade also helps.
Though one’s life is not in danger with heat exhaustion, ignored it can lead to the life-threatening emergency called heat stroke.
As the body begins to generate heat faster than it can be shed, our core body temperature rises rapidly. The brain begins to fail since it can only function within a narrow temperature range.
Heat stroke can produce disorientation, combativeness and hallucinations. If the body is not cooled off rapidly, death can result is as few as 30 minutes.
Cool the victim as fast as you can, soaking their whole body with water after removing all non-cotton clothing. Massage extremities so cooler blood will flow to the core.
If available, place ice packs first around the neck, then under armpits and finally to the groin area. Transport victim to the closest hospital.
Give them water by mouth if they are conscious while you continue to cool their body.
The closest scare I’ve had with dehydration came while doing field work with friends in the desert country of Chaco Canyon.
Returning to base camp at dusk, one member of our party who wasn’t feeling well went to lie down in her tent. It took us awhile to figure out that she was suffering from dehydration. After all, she had lots of water.
But by taking occasional sips from her CamelBak water pack’s convenient tube, her intake had not equaled her loss.
Me? I take a minimum of four big water bottles whenever I go into the great outdoors. And I drink a lot. Water that is.
Writing from 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.
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