Dehydration may seem like a minor ailment, but it can be quite dangerous. In fact, most heat illnesses are caused by dehydration. Did you know that by the time a person is thirsty, he or she is already 2 to 3 percent dehydrated? Once this occurs, it's difficult to make up for the lost hydration.
Get the Facts
In the simplest of terms, dehydration occurs when you lose more water than you take in and your body does not have enough water to carry out its normal functions. What's more, even mild dehydration - as little as 1 to 2 percent loss of body weight - can cause symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, and fatigue, and many have an adverse effect on long-term health.
On average, adults lose about 2.5 liters (more than 10 cups) of water a day by merely doing everyday tasks such as sweating, breathing, and going to the bathroom. Also lost are electrolytes - minerals such as sodium, potassium, and calcium - that maintain the balance of fluids in your body.
A person can sweat about a liter an hour doing heavy work. Most workers exposed to hot conditions drink less fluid than needed because their thirst response is insufficient and lags behind the actual level of dehydration.
Mild to moderate dehydration is likely to cause the following symptoms:
- Excessive thirst
- Dry mouth
- Few or no tears when crying
- Muscle weakness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Symptoms that require emergency care include:
- Altered behavior, such as severe anxiety, confusion, or not being able to stay awake
- Faintness that is relieved by lying down, or lightheadedness that continues after standing for two minutes.
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Cold, clammy skin or hot, dry skin
- Little or no urination
- Loss of consciousness
Preventing dehydration sounds easy enough: consume plenty of fluids and foods high in water content, like fruits and vegetables. Determining your appropriate water intake is not an exact science, as much as depends on age, physical condition, activity level, environment, and individual physiology. To ward off dehydration and make sure your body has the fluids it needs, Friedman's risk management team offers these reminders:
- Instead of depending on thirst, workers should drink cool water, 5 to 7 ounces, every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water each day. Sports drinks are also good rehydration choices.
- Do not consume caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and soda. They increase urine output and make you dehydrate faster.
- Do not drink alcoholic beverages. They only increase dehydration and make it difficult to make good decisions.
- Stop working outdoors or in the heat at the first sign of dizziness, lightheadedness, or fatigue.
- Wear one layer of light-weight, light-colored clothing when you are working or exercising outdoors. Replace sweat-saturated clothing with dry clothing as soon as you can.
- Drink before, during, and after physical labor to replace body fluid lost through perspiration.
- Anticipate conditions that will increase the need for water, including high-temperature, humidity, wearing of protective clothing, and difficulty of work.