Fluids are essential to keeping the vital organs active. “In the summer months you need more fluid intake,” says Dolly Doctor, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Encinitas. About half a gallon of water a day should keep dehydration at bay for most healthy adults.
However, if you’re working out intensely or dehydration symptoms like headache or lightheadedness have already set in, electrolytes are key. “Water is nice, but when you’re dehydrated you also need electrolytes,” Dr. Doctor says. Skip the diet drinks, though. Sugar helps the electrolytes absorb. “Especially if you’re dehydrated, you need sugar in the drink.”
Dehydration can be mild, moderate, or severe, based on how much of your body's fluid is lost or not replaced.
It’s always better to nip dehydration in the bud, because severe cases can lead to a hospital trip for IV fluids, and could sometimes result in kidney damage and nervous system problems.
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Your best defense against dehydration is prevention. Staying cool and making simple changes in your fluid intake, activities and clothing during hot weather can help keep you safe and healthy. On hot summer days, keep these six tips in mind to prevent dehydration.
- Don’t wait till you’re thirsty to drink. Drink more fluids than usual when the weather is hot, especially if you’re active. Sip water through the day if possible. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. By that time you’re already slightly dehydrated.
- Flavor your water. If water tastes boring to you, you can add flavor to it with fresh fruits or a splash of fruit juice.
- Eat water-rich fruits and vegetables. Certain fruits and vegetables contain plenty of water in addition to healthful nutrients. Watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches and pineapples are fruits with high-water content. Water-rich vegetables include cucumbers, leafy greens, radishes, celery, zucchini and tomatoes.
- Stay inside when it gets too hot. On very hot days, stay indoors in an air-conditioned environment. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, try a shopping center, movie theater or public library. Avoid sun exposure, especially between 10 am and 2 pm, when the rays are strongest. Plan outdoor activities in the early morning or evening.
- Dress for the weather. Wear light, loose-fitting clothing that lets your skin breathe. Dark colors absorb heat, so stick with lighter shades. Wear a wide-brimmed hat in the sun to keep your head cool and use plenty of sunscreen to avoid sunburn, which can increase your skin temperature and make it harder to say cool.
- Be aware of the signs of dehydration. If anyone in your family is ill, pay attention to how much they’re able to drink — especially young children and the elderly. Anyone with a fever, vomiting or diarrhea should drink plenty of fluids. Do not wait for signs of dehydration.
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.