It’s summer in South Texas – a simple enough statement, until you step outside and the waves of heat hit your cheeks.
The climate in coastal South Texas blends high humidity and scorching heat to make summer months particularly taxing. No one is unaffected. Vulnerable populations, like elderly persons, infants and those who work or live in the heat daily are particularly at risk.
As children play outside for summer break and high school athletes and band members begin their summer practices, it’s important for parents to stay proactive to prevent heat-related illnesses in their children. It is also imperative for those spending extended time in high temperatures to stay hydrated and make wise food choices.
The importance of staying hydrated cannot be stressed enough. Our bodies are nearly 70 percent water, but that doesn’t mean we have water to spare. Every cell, tissue and organ in the human body needs water to function properly. Normal activities, like breathing, sweating or digesting food all rely on water. With all of that water being used to function, it’s easy to become dehydrated without even realizing it.
Dehydration happens when the body eliminates more water than it takes in. Our bodies send signals of early dehydration, but they can easily be missed. Most people begin paying attention when they become thirsty, but dehydration can begin long before that. Some of the common missed signs of dehydration include not urinating or dark urine, inability to think clearly, constant hunger, headaches, intense food cravings, constipation, lightheadedness when standing up, dry lips and exhaustion.
Without rehydration, the dehydration can progress to more dangerous levels. Dehydration can increase heart rate and eventually restrict blood flow as the blood becomes thicker, causing blood pressure to increase. Cholesterol levels may increase as the body tries to keep water within the cells. Sometimes, the airway becomes restricted as the body tries to limit the amount of water lost through breathing. This can cause allergies and asthma to flare up. The kidneys and bladder have to work harder to try and eliminate toxins within the body, which can lead to urinary tract infections and injury to the kidneys.
Without enough water, cartilage in joints cannot be lubricated, causing pain and stiffness. The brain, which is approximately 75% water, can shrink up to 2%, diminishing its ability to fire off neurotransmitters. This causes the inability to think clearly and produces headaches.
It has long been recommended to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day of water. Although each individual has different needs, this standard can be used as a starting point.
If you plan to exercise intently or sweat excessively, you may consider drinking a sports drink with carbohydrates and electrolytes. However, proceed with caution; most bottles of sports drinks are considered more than one serving and many have high sugar and sodium content. Check those labels.
A more nutritional choice than sports drinks are foods that are hydrating and contain necessary nutrients of vitamins and minerals. Among these are cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, celery, soups, apples, applesauce, pears, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwi, pineapples, mangos, oranges, grapefruit, popsicles, yogurt and jello.
Having these types of foods at lunch or as snacks while on breaks can help one to stay hydrated.
If you notice any of the early symptoms of dehydration, increase your intake of water and hydrating foods. If you feel faint, are cramping or nauseated from the heat, please be safe and get checked out by a medical professional.