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Tips for Prevention of Dehydration and Heat Illness

As heat and humidity scorch the country, emergency physicians are sending out an alarm about the dangers of dehydration and heat illness. Every year hundreds of people die across the country due to heat-related-causes, but the good news is education may be the key to saving lives.

"Heat-related illnesses are 100 percent preventable. Research shows people don't drink enough, especially when active in the heat, which explains why many heat-related problems like dehydration occur," according to Randy Eichner, M.D., professor of medicine and team internist for the University of Oklahoma.

"The first step is to drink plenty of fluids," said Dr Moorehead M.D., president, American College of Emergency Physicians. "It's important to bring fluids with you, and when active or exercising to drink before, during and after you've stopped."

When it comes to what to drink Dr. Eichner says, "Sports drinks encourage active people to drink more because of the added flavor and sodium — people actually drink more than they would with plain water — enabling them to fully rehydrate."

Here are some tips to prevent dehydration and other heat-related illnesses:

Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol — these fluids dehydrate the body rather than hydrate like water and sports drinks.

Avoid carbonated beverages which can cause bloating and keep people from drinking enough fluid to rehydrate.

Wear light colored, absorbent, loose fitting clothing.

Stay in cool, shades areas when possible, protect your skin with sun block.

"Few people know in hot and humid conditions an active person can become dehydrated in just 15 minutes," said Dr. Moorehead. As little as 1-point-3-pounds of fluid loss for a 130 pound person can lead to early fatigue and increase the risk of dehydration."

The symptoms of dehydration include:

— Dry lips and tongue

— Apathy and lack of energy

— Muscle cramping

— Bright-colored or dark urine

If left untreated dehydration can escalate to heat exhaustion or heat stroke that can be deadly. The main symptoms for these include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Rapid and shallow breathing
  • High temperature
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Decreased alertness or complete loss of consciousness

If you experience these symptoms doctors say stop activity immediately and cool down in the shade or an air-conditioned building.

"Most importantly, when active, drink fluids to help quickly replenish what you've lost through sweat," said Dr. Moorehead.

Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing

© 2000 Health Resources Publishing