Beware The Heat How To Tell If You’re Dehydrated

The heat sure is a killer this year. Headaches, irritability, disorientation… If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you may be in danger.
Jason Snyman
2017-12-13
For those who have missed complaining about the summer heat, fret not. According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2017 has shaped up to be one of the three warmest years on record. Granted, it has nothing on the icecap-melting scorcher that was 2016, but it’s up there. Heat, confusion, residents of Paarl hiding away in bottle store walk-in fridges. These are just some of the sure-fire signs that summer has arrived. For those of us still venturing out into the inferno every day, we’ve put together a helpful guide to help you survive dehydration.

Record Breaking Heat

What makes the year of 2017 so extraordinary is that the warmth we’re getting has arrived without the El Niño influence. For those who don’t know what an El Niño is, the folks at the Conversation have put together a helpful explanation. The El Niño brings warm waters to the tropical east Pacific. This causes a transfer of heat from the ocean to the lower atmosphere and can raise the global average temperatures by up to 0.2℃. This year’s temperatures, however, have been blistering even in the absence of this phenomenon. So, 2017 has ended up being one of the warmest non-El Niño years on record. It’s been a year of extremes… This year we’ve also seen record-high global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. The swell in CO₂ levels has been massive. Global sea ice extent has hit a record low, even during the winter. East Africa has seen continued drought and both political and food instability. Hurricanes have hit the United States and Caribbean multiple times. Wildfires have broken out all over the world, particular in Portugal and Spain. Australia is facing what is predicted to be a fire season for the record books, etc. The list goes on and on… It’s pretty clear that we, as human beings, are warming up the climate, particularly with regards to heat waves. The human fingerprint is everywhere.

How To Tell If You’re Dehydrated

We run on water. It’s as simple as that. The human body is made up of 50% – 80% water, depending on the organs, and it’s even in our bones. Most of the time, by the time we start feeling thirsty, our bodies are already dehydrated. Mild dehydration can be pretty uncomfortable, but as it gets worse, it can lead to seizures, blood clots and other fatal problems. Dehydration, then, needs to be treated as soon as possible. As we lose water through sweating, urinating, breathing or crying like little girls about the lack of vegan options on the menu, our body fluids become more concentrated. Urine turns darker and blood becomes thicker, affecting the functions of the kidneys and the cardiovascular system. Your heart rate increases. Because less blood is available to carry oxygen to your brain, you develop a headache. Your head is pounding. You start feeling irritable, dizzy or tired and you find it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the smallest of tasks. Standing up makes you feel light-headed. You feel peckish all the time, craving sweets or water-based foods like fruit. You may even experience fever and chills. Most of the time, we experience these symptoms and blame it on stress or lack of sleep, but it could very well be dehydration. So, how do we know the difference? There are a couple of tell-tale signs.

1. The Skin Test

Dehydrated skin is, of course, extremely dry and may appear flushed. A good way to tell if you’re in need of hydration is the pinch test. Use two fingers to pinch up some skin on the back of your hand, and then let it go. The skin, if healthy, should spring back into its normal position immediately. Dehydrated skin lacks elasticity and won’t bounce back, the way it should. If your skin appears ‘tented’ and takes a little while to return to normal, you’re probably dehydrated.

2. Dry, Sticky Mouth

Well, thank you Captain Obvious. A dry mouth means you’re dehydrated? Tell us more! A swollen tongue, flopping about and sticking to all sides of your mouth. A dry, sore throat. These are sure-fire ways to tell that your body needs water. Here’s another one: bad breath. Our saliva has antibacterial properties, and dehydration prevents our bodies from making saliva… This leads to bacteria overgrowth in the mouth and – you guessed it – bad breath.

3. Muscle Cramps

It’s natural to experience muscle fatigue when you’ve been exercising for a while, particularly in the heat. If, however, the discomfort goes beyond that and you’re experiencing severe muscle cramping – that’s a serious sign of dehydration. Your muscles could be cramping up just from the heat itself, but there’s another explanation too. Our bodies need hydration and electrolytes. Sodium, potassium, etc. There’s a delicate balance of these, and when upset it can lead to painful muscle spasms or involuntary contractions. Wandering or widespread muscle cramping might be due to a sodium deficit or dehydration in the fluid spaces around certain muscles. An overworked muscle, for instance, would just affect a specific area. It may sound weird, but sodium helps the body re-hydrate and retain water. Sports drinks are usually great sources.

4. The Bathroom Checks

Water helps move food waste through your bowels, so if your body lacks water you may experience some constipation. Likewise, when kidneys go into emergency water storage, you’ll find that you need to use the bathroom less and less. When you do urinate, the colour is dark yellow, indicating an over-concentration of waste. The more water you have flushing out your system, the lighter the colour of your urine will be. Dark urine is a sure indication that you are dehydrated, and you need to start drinking fluids. If there’s blood in your urine, well, you may have bigger problems in life.
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Stay Hydrated

Keep your water bottle handy when you’re out and about. If you don’t like plain water – jazz it up a bit with fresh or frozen fruit and mint. Iced teas are great, as well. Drinking too much water could lead to a serious condition called water intoxication. So, how much is enough? Most websites would say you need between 8 and 10 glasses per day. It depends, however, on a number of factors. Your weight, age, gender, the weather, the amount of activity you’re putting your body through, etc. For that, daily water intake calculators or hydration calculators come in handy. Water is essential to our survival. For our own sake, don’t waste it.   [caption id="attachment_29841" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Thirsty, Aren't You?[/caption]