Hot and humid days are the norm for this area. If proper measures are not taken to properly hydrate, then dehydration-related problems could lead...

Hot and humid days are the norm for this area. If proper measures are not taken to properly hydrate, then dehydration-related problems could lead to heat-related illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, with the latter potentially fatal. It is important to prevent dehydration, but to also be aware of the symptoms of dehydration and progressing heat-related illness.

Our bodies are 70 percent water. As long as the body is able to compensate for activity or illness, it maintains a state of homeostasis. It is when the body cannot keep up that significant problems begin to occur. Sweating is the body’s natural mechanism to cool itself. To maintain a proper level of water and electrolytes, it is important to hydrate or drink liquids before, during and after activity or illness. The problem is that once we get sick, we do not feel like drinking or eating. Even before this, the things that we drink will either help prevent dehydration or push us to it faster. Drinks that are high in caffeine and sugar are not good for proper hydration. Water is the best thing to drink regularly. High or low sodium, hypernatremia and hyponatremia, can cause significant problems in our bodies and are very difficult to treat. Both are potential complications of dehydration.

Some of the symptoms of dehydration are headache, dysuria (difficulty urinating), altered mental status, rapid heart rate and possible tenting of the skin, just to name a few. Once dehydration begins, it is extremely difficult to manage by drinking liquids alone. Dehydration is usually treated by intravenous fluids, as well as infusion, injection or pills to regulate chemicals in the body, such as potassium or magnesium. Another thing that can cause dehydration is medications. The medicine may be doing its job and your body compensating well until something makes you sick. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea complicate and intensify dehydration.

As stated previously, dehydration can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat cramps are muscle cramps that occur due to an electrolyte imbalance in the muscle caused by inadequate hydration for activity being done. You may remember when there were dispensers of salt tablets in locker rooms. This was stopped due to other issues caused by the sudden ingestion of pure sodium. With heat cramps usually comes heat exhaustion. This is when the nausea and vomiting can begin. It is important to get a person out of the hot environment into a cooler environment. It may pass with time and drinking fluids, but it may have to be corrected with IV fluids.

Since heat stroke is potentially fatal and considered life-threatening, I will deal with it alone. You remember that I said that sweating is our body’s natural mechanism to cool itself. If sweating stops, the core temperature goes up. Body temps of 105 or greater could be seen. This requires rapid cooling and absolutely requires a 911 call. The person suffering heat stroke will not be the one who figures this out. It will be a friend, co-worker or family member who recognizes the problem and immediately calls for help. Untreated heat-related illnesses can progress from the least to the worst.

It is important to stay on the hydrated side of things during hot humid days.

There may be some that could over-hydrate, causing pedal or pulmonary edema. Homeostasis means balance. In other words, a proper intake of fluid and nutrients for whatever a person wants to do, or wherever they happen to be health-wise.

It is important for people who have chronic illnesses to be aware that heat can have a greater effect on them. The very old or very young are always vulnerable to extreme heat or cold.