CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 5 PETER PANOS
Joint Force Headquarters
Minnesota Army National Guard
St. Paul, Minnesota
As we prepared to deploy to Iraq, my brigade was inundated with information stressing the importance of proper hydration. None of us wanted to be a noncombat casualty and, thereby, a hindrance to our fellow Soldiers and the mission, so we all took the message to heart. During our six-month train up, not one Soldier succumbed to dehydration.
The human body is made up of about 60-70 percent water. Blood is mostly water, and your muscles, lungs and brain all contain a lot of water. We need water to regulate body temperature and provide the means for nutrients to travel to our organs. Water also transports oxygen to cells, removes waste and protects joints and organs. Therefore, allowing your body to become dehydrated has a more profound effect on your overall health than just causing thirst or a headache.
We lose water through urination and by sweating. If you’re very active, you lose more water than if you’re sedentary. Diuretics such as caffeine pills and alcohol result in the need to increase our fluid intake because they trick the body into thinking we have more water than we need.
Symptoms of mild dehydration include chronic pains in joints and muscles, lower back pain, headaches and constipation. A strong odor to your urine, along with a yellow or amber color, indicates you might not be getting enough water. Thirst is an obvious sign of dehydration. However, you need water long before you feel thirsty.
What’s Your Daily Need?
So how much water or fluids do we need to take in each day? A good rule of thumb is to take your body weight in pounds and divide it in half. That gives you the number of ounces of water per day that you need to drink. For example, if you weigh 190 pounds, you should drink at least 95 ounces of water per day. If you exercise, you should drink another 8-ounce glass of water for every 20 minutes you’re active.
If you drink alcohol, you should consume at least an equal amount of water. When you’re traveling on an airplane, drink 8 ounces of water for every hour you’re onboard. If you live in an arid climate, even temporarily, you should add another two 8-ounce glasses per day. As you can see, your daily need for fluids can add up to quite a lot.
If we eat a healthy diet, we can get as much as 20 percent of our fluid requirements from foods. The rest should come from the beverages we drink. Of course, water is the best choice. Sodas have a lot of sugar and most are caffeinated. Drinking soda may also cause us to take in unnecessary calories, while the diuretic effect of the caffeine will actually cause you to need more fluids. For coffee drinkers, decaf is the best choice if you don’t need the caffeine to help stay alert.
Sports drinks containing electrolytes, such as Gatorade or PowerAid, may be beneficial. Just ensure you look out for added sugar and calories your body doesn’t need. Juices are also good because they have vitamins and nutrients. If you’re like me, plain water isn’t very satisfying. I add raspberry, orange or lemon flavoring to my water, which makes consuming large amounts more tolerable.
You might find it difficult to drink enough fluids every day. But if you make it a habit to have a water bottle handy when you’re working, traveling or exercising, you will avoid the headaches, vomiting, cramping and embarrassment of being a heat casualty.
Did You Know?
Just as Soldiers can suffer a heat injury by not drinking enough fluids, they can also drink too much. Hyponatremia is a condition where the sodium concentration in human blood is lower than normal. Causes include overhydration, skipping meals or dieting, loss of body salt or misdiagnosis and treatment for dehydration.
Those suffering from hyponatremia can exhibit symptoms such as confusion, weakness, nausea or vomiting. If you suspect a Soldier is suffering from hyponatremia, help replace salt loss and follow the measures for heat exhaustion.
If symptoms persist or become more severe, evacuate the Soldier to a medical facility. To prevent hyponatremia:
• Follow fluid replacement guidelines.
• Replace lost salt by consuming meals and sports drinks as directed.
• Provide snacks or carbohydrate electrolyte beverages during long training events.
• Don’t take dietary supplements.
For more information, posters and tip cards about proper hydration, visit the U.S. Army Public Health Command website at http://phc.amedd.army.mil/Pages/default.aspx.
Excessive heat can be deadly. The Department of the Army Directorate of Mission Assurance recommends the following tips to help Soldiers stay safe as the temperature increases throughout the summer:
1. Avoid or reduce exposure to outdoor heat
• Postpone outdoor games and activities. If you must be outdoors, try to schedule activities or work during the morning and evening hours.
• Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible. Air-conditioning is one of the most protective factors against heat-related illness.
• If you do not have air-conditioning at your home, seek a location that is air-conditioned, such as a mall, movie theater, library, etc.
• Wear lightweight, light colored, breathable clothing.
• Take cool showers or baths.
2. Stay hydrated
• Drink water often but in moderation.
• Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink liquids.
• Avoid sugary, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages.
3. Monitor high-risk individuals
• Keep a close eye on infants, children, and people over 65 years old. They are more susceptible to heat illness.
• Never leave children or pets in parked cars even if the windows are cracked open.
4. Stay alert to heat disorders
• Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, pale complexion, clammy skin, nausea, vomiting, and fainting. If you encounter a person experiencing these symptoms, move the individual to a cooler location, tell them to lie down and loosen their clothing, apply cool cloths to the person’s body, encourage the individual to sip water, and seek medical attention if symptoms do not get better.
• Symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, rapid pulse, possible loss of consciousness, and hot and dry or moist skin. If you meet a person with these symptoms, call 911 immediately and attempt to reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath.