It’s getting hotter and hotter out there, folks. Conditions in Gauteng, in particular, have been worsening. The cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria will be hitting temperatures of up to 36°C this week, and though there have been rumours of possible, merciful thundershowers on the way, the heatwave, it is said, will continue unperturbed.
Heat, confusion, irritation, residents of Vereeniging hiding away in bottlestore walk-in fridges. These are just some of the sure-fire signs that the upcoming summer won’t be one to trifle with.
For those of us still venturing out into the inferno every day, we’ve put together a helpful guide to help you survive dehydration.
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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’ve actually begun to feel 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 even crying – because everything is terrible – 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, and because there is less blood 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 even 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, but before we get into that, it’s important to mention that drinking an excessive amount of water (as some are prone to do in times of such heat) could also be harmful, and could lead to a serious condition called Water Intoxication.
It has often been cited that we need to take in between 8 and 10 glasses of water per day. This really depends, however, on a number of factors. Your weight, age, gender, the weather, the amount of activity you’re putting your body through, etc.
1. The Pinch Test
Dehydrated skin is, of course, extremely dry, and may often appear quite flushed. One good way to tell if you’re in need of hydration is to use 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 almost defintely dehydrated.
2. Dry, Sticky Mouth
Yes, yes, 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 that 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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