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Hydration During a Heat Wave

Jul 9, 2021

The weather has been crazy for the last couple of weeks.  Temperature variations from the fifties to the nineties from day to day.  I, personally, want to thank Willis Carrier, the inventor of modern air conditioning, for his brilliant work in 1902. 

Any time the weather is extreme and out of the norm, we have to adapt.  Hot weather is no exception.  While it is wonderful to sit on the beach and watch the sun go down as the air cools, there are issues that can make us long for the crisp cool weather to come in November.

Heat exhaustion and dehydration are a major concern in hot weather.  Keeping properly hydrated is one of the most important steps to take to avoid becoming ill from the heat.   Drinking plenty of water is an obvious choice to stay hydrated.  But, did you know that certain foods and drinks can make it more difficult to stay hydrated?

A icy cold bottle of beer or wine cooler tastes so good in the hot weather.  But, alcohol is not the best choice during a heat wave.  Alcohol is a diuretic–meaning that it promotes dehydration–and interferes with your body’s ability to regulate its own temperature.   Sugary, caffeinated, or carbonated drinks can also act as a diuretic if you drink too much of them. 

Plain water is probably the best thing to drink during a heat spell.  Unless you have a medical issue and have been told to limit your intake of water, it’s a good idea to keep a glass of water on hand and sip from it regularly.

One problem with drinking water is that, after a while, water gets boring.  Sometimes you just want something different to drink.  Try brewing a pitcher of caffeine-free mint tea—I like the type with mint leaves only—and then chill it.  Cold mint tea is extraordinarily refreshing on a hot day.  Fruit infused water is another flavored drink that can help with hydration.

In addition to watching what you are drinking during a heat wave, you might want to watch what you are eating also.  That’s because certain foods dehydrate us, and you might not even know they’re doing it.  Certain foods are more dehydrating than others– mostly foods that are high in sugar, protein and fiber.  The body uses a lot of water to metabolize these kinds of foods. And that depletes water reserves, which can lead to dehydration.

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain a good amount of water and are easy to metabolize. Not only do you get a lot of nutrients from them, they provide hydration.

There are certain groups that need to particularly careful to avoid dehydration.  These include:

  • Infants and young children
  • People 65 years of age or older
  • People who are overweight
  • People who overexert during work or exercise
  • People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation

Heat exhaustion signs and symptoms include:

  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
  • Heavy sweating
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition. If you suspect heat exhaustion, take these steps immediately:

  • Move the person out of the heat and into a shady or air-conditioned place.
  • Lay the person down and elevate the legs and feet slightly.
  • Remove tight or heavy clothing.
  • Have the person drink cool water or other nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine.
  • Cool the person by spraying or sponging with cool water and fanning.
  • Monitor the person carefully.

Contact a doctor if signs or symptoms worsen or if they don’t improve within one hour.

Winter will return to the North Shore soon enough.  Enjoy the summer and the best that New England has to offer!