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Letter: Avoid dehydration during hottest part of year

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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of Daily Journal.

Howard Mattingly

registered nurse


To the editor:

The “dog days of summer” have arrived. Traditionally this is from July 15 until Labor Day. These are the hottest and driest days of the year, but they are also the most popular for yard work, outside chores, picnics and swimming.

They are also when many people overdo it, resulting in trips to the emergency room that could be avoided by using some common sense and an ounce of prevention.

Perhaps the biggest problem in summer is dehydration. What many people don’t realize is how many other problems dehydration can cause. Dehydration, in simple terms, occurs when your body loses too much water — usually through sweating. Our bodies are designed to work within very narrow ranges of temperature and chemistry.

On very hot days, the heat begins to build up inside us, and this gets worse if we are working hard or exercising. To release the built up heat, the blood vessels in the skin enlarge so that excess heat can be carried by the blood from deep inside us to the surface.

Sweat forms to carry the heat away from our body as it evaporates, but this requires letting go of water that our bodies also need to work properly. When too much water escapes, we become dehydrated and our internal balance is disturbed. The solution is to drink while we work, but we don’t; and a wide range of problems can follow.

One of the first places our bodies look to find extra water is from the blood. As water is removed, the blood gets thicker, and thicker blood clots easier. If a clot does form and there is a narrowing in one of your arteries, blood flow to whatever that artery feeds will be blocked. If it is the heart, you will have a heart attack with the characteristic pressure in your chest, pain radiating to the jaw, arms or back, shortness of breath, fatigue and possibly nausea or indigestion.

A clot that travels to the brain will cause a stroke with headache, facial droop on one side, weakness or numbness on one side, slurred speech or confusion. Knowing the warning signs and calling 911 early can minimize the damage and improve the chance of a full recovery.

Dehydration and heat combined can result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat exhaustion usually begins with flushing of the skin and a headache. In fact, an early sign is a headache that occurs when you put on your hat or visor. Later signs of heat exhaustion include shortness of breath, fatigue and possibly fainting. Untreated heat exhaustion will progress to heat stroke, which results in coma or death.

These people should be moved to a shady or air conditioned place and told to lie down. Elevate their legs. Stay with them — their condition can worsen quickly even after treatment. Give them cool fluids (not ice cold) alternating between water and sport drinks, place a cold cloth on their forehead and behind their neck.

Be sure to check on them frequently and call 911 if they do not improve or their condition worsens. Do not let them go back to what they were doing — their body needs time to recover.

Dehydration can also lead to fainting whether it is due to the decreased water in their bloodstream resulting in low blood pressure or due to changes in body chemistry resulting in very high or low blood sugar. If the person is diabetic, they may know what to do and simply need your help.

Get them what they ask for. If they feel dizzy or faint — or have already fainted — move them to a shady or air-conditioned place if possible. Elevate their legs, give them fluids and stay with them. If they black out — call 911.

Often to cool off we go swimming which is fine, but be aware that you may be more prone to muscle cramps and fatigue, which increase your risk of drowning. You may also be swimming against currents in lakes and rivers that will cause you to tire faster too. If someone is in trouble and you go to help, take along a flotation ring or inflatable mattress for them to grab or they may pull you under. To avoid head or neck injuries, never dive into unfamiliar water or dive during a drought when water levels may be lower than normal.

Last of all, remember that lightning can strike as much as 15 miles in front of an approaching storm. If you hear thunder there is lightning somewhere, get out of the water until the storm passes.

Hopefully this will help you recognize and avoid problems so you can enjoy your summer.

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