Health Life + Arts

Beat the heat by staying hydrated

Sweet summertime has finally arrived. Whether they’re enjoying a Texas beach or river, traveling, exercising outdoors or just relaxing by the pool, many students will find themselves soaking up the sun in the great outdoors this season. When enjoying time outdoors with family and friends, it’s easy to forget to stay hydrated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 million Americans are susceptible to heat-related illnesses annually,  including dehydration, which can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Complications from these illnesses contribute 675 people on average to the annual death toll.

Regarding dehydration, the American Heart Association states that “even mild dehydration (a loss of as little as 1 percent to 2 percent of body weight), can cause weakness, dizziness and fatigue.”

The following have been identified as symptoms of dehydration:

  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Dry lips and tongue
  • Lack of energy
  • Feeling overheated

The most common heat-related illnesses caused by dehydration include:

  • Heat cramps: painful cramps in the abdominals or upper and lower extremities (arms and legs)
  • Heat exhaustion: dizziness, headaches, weakness, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain and sometimes unconsciousness
  • Heat stroke: A core temperature of 104 F or higher and other symptoms including: nausea and vomiting, seizures, disorientation or delirium, lack of sweat, shortness of breath and unconsciousness or coma.

UH Health Center’s chief physician Dr. Scott J. Spear stressed the importance of being hydrated on sweltering days.

“Be sure to stay well-hydrated in the sun — you know that you’re staying hydrated if you are urinating at least every four to six hours. Also, try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. During these hours, the sun is most directly overhead,” Spear said. He recommends wearing sunblock and lightly-colored clothing to decrease absorption of the sun’s rays, as well as constant water consumption.

“Although sports drinks, like Gatorade, provide electrolytes and sugar, any type of flavored water can also be equally as beneficial,” Spear said. “You drink more water when it is flavored and drinking more is what is important.”

In Houston, summer temperatures often reach well over 90 F. High temperatures in conjunction with outdoor activities can put any Houstonian at risk for a heat-related illness without the proper hydration.

Students who spend an extended amount of time outdoors in Houston’s summer weather need to think of staying hydrated at all times. Moreover, students that are outdoors during strenuous physical activity (such as runners or athletes) need to be very deliberate about their water consumption because they are at a greater risk for heat-related illnesses.

Business management junior and UH football player Trevon Stewart explains how the Houston heat can affect athletes.

“When practicing outside with the football team, I may see someone getting dehydrated or exhausted almost three times a week, it just depends on the workouts we are doing and how long the workouts will be,” Stewart said.

In the case that you or someone you know suffers a heat-related illness, refer to the following tips:

How to ease heat cramps:

  • Stop any activity or exercise and relocate to a cool, air-conditioned area
  • Drink clear juice or a sports beverage
  • Do not return to vigorous activity for several hours after cramps subside; further exertion could lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  • If cramps do not subside for 1 hour, seek medical attention

How to cool the body when affected by heat exhaustion:

  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages
  • Take a cold bath, sponge bath or shower
  • Go to an air-conditioned area
  • Wear lightweight clothing

What to do if you see someone who has experienced a heat stroke:

  • Quickly get the person to a shady area
  • Cool them as fast as possible (ex. pour cold water on their body, place them in a cold shower, spray them with a garden hose, etc.)
  • Monitor body temperature until it is lower than 101 F
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible. If emergency services are delayed, contact a local hospital emergency room for further instructions

If you are not sure what to do in any of these situations, contact an emergency room for further instruction and closely monitor the person in need of help.

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