We all have memories of the endless, hot days of the summer holidays but now heat waves have become such a regular feature of the British summer that the Met Office has instituted a brand new extreme heat warning to let people know when there’s potential danger and they need to take precautions.
Today we’re taking a look at one of those dangers, and what good precautions can be.
When the mercury rises, one of the main things to worry about is dehydration. Our bodies keep an important reserve of fluid in your cells and between cells. In hot weather, your body uses this water to keep you cool with sweat! You pass droplets of water out through your sweat glands, which evaporates from your skin and creates a heat exchange, cooling your skin. Unless you replenish your fluid levels, this leaves less and less water in your body to do all the other important jobs it’s used for, transporting other substances around (including removing waste matter from your body in the form of urine) and even keeping your cells fully inflated.
You don’t just lose water when you sweat. Your sweat is salty because it contains electrolytes: soluble salts which are some of the most important substances in your body. Electrolytes include chemicals like sodium and potassium, and are used for tasks like regulating the fluid balance in your cells and transmitting nerve impulses to your muscles (including your heart! One of the symptoms of electrolyte deficit is an irregular heartbeat).
In extremely hot weather, it’s well worth asking ‘how do you test for dehydration?’ Especially if you have young children or elderly adults in your household, who are more prone to slipping into advanced dehydration states without realising. You can look for symptoms like headaches and muscle pains, signs like less regular urination with darker urine (though this may be an awkward question to ask). The simplest test is to simply pinch the skin on the back of the person’s hand: if it springs back into shape quickly then they’re likely not dehydrated, whereas if the skin is slack and doesn’t reform as fast then dehydration might be the problem. Skin elasticity is dramatically affected by how hydrated you are, so it’s a useful indicator.
If you’re feeling thirsty, then a glass of water is a sure fire way to feel better. If you’re dehydrated, you may need to take further measures. Don’t forget you’ve also lost electrolytes, and if you drink a lot of water while your electrolyte levels are unbalanced you can actually make the situation worse! To rehydrate in the safest and most efficient way, use a dedicated rehydration product, like soluble powders you can get from the chemist, or O.R.S. Hydration Tablets. These contain all the salts and sugars you need to both rehydrate and top up your electrolytes to a healthy level.