Staying hydrated as temperatures soar, tips from an expert

Eric Palmer

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The heat is on. With temperatures reaching as high as 105 degrees this week, News 8 wanted to provide some advice on how to stay safe both in and out of the sun–specifically as it relates to dehydration. 

Lack of water and soaring temperatures are the perfect storm for everything from dry mouth and fatigue to confusion and heat stroke. So, see below for the top 10 tips on how to avoid these complications courtesy of Eric Palmer, MSN, MHA and clinical assistant professor at Purdue University’s School of Nursing. 

Q: What are the warning signs of dehydration? 

Palmer: Signs of dehydration can be different for different age groups. In adults, common signs or symptoms are dry mouth, sweating less than usual and urinating less. Dark-colored urine is also a sign as is feeling tired, dizzy, or confused. 

Infants may experience dry mouth and a lack of tears when they cry. Or, they do not cry when something happens to them when they typically would. Sunken eyes, cheeks or soft spots on the skull that have not completely formed in infants are also signs of dehydration. If the infant or young child does not have a wet diaper for three hours, they should be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible. 

Q: Who is at most risk of dehydration and why?

Palmer: As with many illnesses, young children and older adults are at greatest risk for the negative effects of dehydration or becoming dehydrated more easily than other age groups.  

Infants and children are often unable to tell when they are thirsty. They have to rely on others for food and water intake. Physiologically, their body is unable to adapt quickly to new, changing or extreme environmental conditions. This is concerning. 

Older adults generally have smaller fluid reserves in their bodies. Many older adults also live with a chronic condition, which may make them more vulnerable to dehydration. Occasionally, medications used to treat a chronic condition may increase a person’s vulnerability to becoming dehydrated. 

For the general population, living with chronic illnesses, especially diabetes or kidney disease, puts a person at higher risk as well as those who work or exercise outside. 

Q: How does hydration keep us healthy and safe?

Palmer: Hydration helps to regulate our body temperature, prevent infections and allow our cells to work properly, which then leads to our organs function the way they need to. When our body is working properly we have the mental and physical ability to maintain our daily lifestyles and make the best decisions to keep ourselves safe. 

Q: Do other beverages count towards daily fluid intake? I’ve heard mixed messages about juice, coffee, tea etc.

Palmer: Water tops the list. It’s accessible to most people in the U.S. and is the least expensive way to maintain adequate hydration. Other drinks such as sports drinks, coconut water or fruit infused water may not be available or affordable for some. Simply put, water is best. 

Drinks containing alcohol or caffeine tend to pull water from the body’s cells and can actually contribute to dehydration. Juices and fruit drinks can help with hydration, but often contain too many carbohydrates to be an optimum hydration fluid.  

Q: What kind of foods contain water? Should I be eating more of them these days and might they also count towards my daily values? 

Palmer: While water in its pure form is best, we also get it from certain foods. One summertime favorite is watermelon, which contains a lot of water–not to mention it’s delicious. Bell peppers, tomatoes, celery, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, grapefruit and strawberries are also sources of water. Many of us could probably use a few more fruits and vegetables anyway and this is just one more reason to incorporate them. 

Q: Does staying out of the sun or easing up on my exercise help me retain my water intake? I’m thinking it’s best to not sweat. 

Palmer: Anytime we are exposed to the heat, especially with high humidity, we need to pay attention to our body. If we are thirsty, drink. Again, water is best. Sweating is one of the body’s mechanisms for cooling down, but if you are not acclimated to the environment, it’s best not to exercise or work outside as much as you would in a temperature-controlled environment. 

Q: I’m wearing a mask all the time now. How can I remind myself to stay hydrated when my mouth is covered all day? 

Palmer: Adding masks to the mix helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but can complicate other healthy behaviors. Cueing ourselves to drink water regularly by bringing water with us everywhere we go can help. Or maybe it’s a sticky note on computer screen’s edge that simply reads: WATER.

The reason for wearing the mask has likely led to changes in routines, which may have included fluid intake But now some of the patterns are altered now. Take exercise for example. Suppose we exercised in a gym pre-pandemic. However, given the outbreak, we’re exercising outdoors instead. Our bodies may require additional fluids when exercising in the heat as opposed to an air conditioned fitness center. 

In the end, it’s going to take a more conscious effort to ensure we stay hydrated. 

Q: What is the daily recommended fluid intake? Is it uniform across the population or do some need more than others?

Palmer: The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies set a general, daily recommendation for hydration to be approximately 15.5 cups (~3.7 liters) for males and approximately 11.4 cups (~2.7 liters) for females. But this recommendation is for food and beverages combined–not just fluid alone. 

Q: What are some tips to stay hydrated?

Palmer: The most important thing is to listen to your body. If you are thirsty, drink water or whatever you have available–aside from alcoholic beverages–to quench your thirst. Again, make a conscious effort to include foods with high water concentrations into your diet. Carry a water bottle or a reusable container to fill up and make sure to use it! Pay attention to the heat and humidity and plan your activities accordingly. If exercising or working outdoors when it is hot and humid, then plan to take more frequent breaks that include drinking water.