Steps to Preventing Dehydration and Heat Exhaustion

  • Jul 02, 2017

For many of us, summer means warm weather, sweat and sun. But with the heat also comes the health hazards. In the warmer months, it’s more important than ever to stay hydrated and avoid prolonged exposure to the heat and sun. Both dehydration and heat exhaustion are common and can lead to more serious conditions, such as heatstroke, but both are preventable. Take a moment to learn more about the difference between dehydration and heat exhaustion, as well as how you can reduce the risk of both.

Staying Hydrated Is Essential to Your Health

Dehydration occurs when the body has been significantly depleted of its water content and salts. You are particularly susceptible to dehydration during prolonged exposure to high temperatures, as the body loses water through sweat in an effort to keep itself cool. Unless replenished, your body will lose water and minerals until there is nothing left to expel. Serious cases of dehydration can require intravenous fluids and hospitalization. To avoid dehydration, you should take the following steps:

•Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day
•Avoid physical activity during the warmest hours
•Replenish electrolytes (salts) with sports drinks
•Take in more water than you are losing

Understanding Wet Bulb Globe Temperature

While most people understand Heat Index, or the ratio of relative humidity to temperature, as the standard unit of how the body perceives heat, a more accurate measurement now exists. Wet Bulb Global Temperature (WBGT) was developed by the US Marines and is a complex formula that takes into account numerous variables, including:

•Humidity
•Temperature
•Wind
•Cloud cover
•Sunlight

WBGT assigns heat stress ratings based on the results of the current conditions on a color spectrum. White and green warning flags mean WBGT levels are tolerable; yellow and red signify potentially harmful conditions, and a black flag indicates a health hazard. The worse the conditions, the greater the ratio between downtime and exposure. An easy and accurate system, professional athletes have used WBGT ratings for years. When physical activity is expected, be aware of the WGBT rating by checking a real time weather tracker before heading out.

Reducing the Risk of Heat Exhaustion

Though often conflated, dehydration and heat exhaustion are not the same. Dehydration is often a precursor to heat exhaustion, as well as more serious conditions, such as heatstroke. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body goes into overdrive to keep itself cool. As a result, your body loses fluids faster, blood pressure rises, and disorientation sets in. Staying hydrated is extremely important during exposure to high temperatures, significantly reducing the risk of heat-related illness.

Heat Acclimatization for Athletes

Athletes who regularly play in the heat should be familiar with heat acclimatization routines. Heat acclimatization is the process of adjusting your body to high-temperature conditions, lowering the risk of exhaustion or stroke. If properly done, it lowers your heart rate, reduces body and skin temperature responses, while increasing sweat production and blood flow.

Generally, acclimatization begins early in the season by slowly and steadily introducing heat stress to the body. This can mean lengthening workouts and exposure a little each day, adjusting your heart rate under stress, wearing limited gear and more. Other steps toward acclimatization include:

•Do not practice longer than 3 hours per day
•No consecutive double-practices
•Increase workout intensity gradually over a few days
•Increase sodium intake as sweat rate increases
•Hydrate regularly throughout games and practices
•Take frequent rest to avoid overheating

Acclimating your body to the heat helps you stay healthy under strenuous conditions; however, even the most conditioned athletes can succumb to the effects of heat exhaustion and dehydration if not careful.

Every summer, it’s important to remind yourself of the heat-related health hazards and how you can avoid them. Remember stay hydrated and avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. For more resources on heat exhaustion and dehydration prevention in your area, please contact us anytime.