The hot weather has arrived and with that comes all kinds of worries: sunburn and dehydration top my list. Despite being of mostly Italian descent, I am a pale gal and I burn to a crisp. But that is a story for another day. We all hear every summer that we need to stay hydrated (and being a nurse, I am constantly pushing fluids on people and educating them on the importance of it), but do you know what dehydration looks and feels like? I consider myself somewhat of an expert on dehydration and rehydration (the rehydration part is generally not fun for you if you’re seeing me for it at work).
That was until my son, who was 9 or 10 at the time, came out to me one night at about 9 PM crying and telling me that he had the worst headache he had ever had in his life. He’s not a kid who complains, so I knew it must be serious. And being a nurse, I just wanted to make it go away so I gave him Tylenol. That didn’t touch it. I had no idea what else to do; he was literally grabbing his head and crying. I paged his pediatrician who, knowing my son’s lengthy medical history, sent us on our way to the ER. The ER is a nightmare, as you all know.
After several hours, labs, and much crying the diagnosis was……dehydration. WHAT??? Surely, they were kidding. I’m a nurse. I know all about dehydration and how to prevent it. Except that he had been at his summer program all day and it was hot. There was no AC and despite my constant lectures on drinking enough, he just hadn’t. I had never seen it present this way and it a real eye opener for me. So the next summer when we were on vacation and spent the day at Hershey Park and he started to complain of headache and became irritable, I knew what we were up against. Now when he gets aggravated with me constantly reminding him to drink, I remind him of that awful headache.
Do you know what other symptoms to look for? It typically presents differently in babies and young children: you may notice no tears when they cry, no wet diaper for several hours, and irritability. I older children and adults you may see extreme thirst, dark concentrated urine (the clearer the urine, the better), fatigue, dizziness, and confusion as well as the aforementioned headache. This list is by no means conclusive and individuals may present with different symptoms. When in doubt, hydrate. It certainly can’t hurt.
Ultimately, we want to prevent dehydration, but it happens and the obvious solution is to rehydrate. This is not always as simple as “just drink more”, especially with young kids. Ideally, we would want you to rehydrate with water or Gatorade, which will replenish some of your lost electrolytes. G2 by Gatorade has much less sugar if that is a concern. A lot of kids won’t drink water, so you can always try the Crystal Light-type packets or infuse it with fruit. Juice is good too if they won’t drink water. What some people may not know is that anything liquid at room temperature is considered a liquid, so that means that jello, ice cream, and popsicles are all liquids if you are having a tough time getting fluids into a kid or even an elderly person. I worked for many years in nursing homes and they didn’t always like to drink, but they always loved their ice cream. Anything with caffeine is not a great idea to use to hydrate, as caffeine is a diuretic and will make you go to the bathroom more often.
If you’re coming in to the office to see me, you likely need an IV….and that’s no fun. People who are dehydrated are harder to get IV access on and often require more than 1 “stick”, as we call them. So honestly, do everything in your power to avoid coming to see me or going to the ER. Try to avoid sunburns by using your sunblock. Sun poisoning almost always requires IV hydration….have you ever seen how big those IV bags are? That’s going to put a real damper on your plans for the day.
Get out there and enjoy the beautiful summer weather…..just make sure you’re drinking!! What are your ideas to stay hydrated?