The Orion

Avoiding heat-related illnesses

Sarah Strausser

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Brittney Patera, MS, RD Sports Dietitian and Chico alumna, discusses the importance of staying hydrated to avoid heat-related illnesses. Photo courtesy of Brittney Patera.

It was a hot spring day on the track when Kayla Lawson, junior business project management major, noticed one of her teammates beginning to shake and feel dizzy. She knew as soon as she saw her that she needed to be seen by the trainer, Lawson said.

The trainer later confirmed that the weak and confused member of the track team was experiencing heat exhaustion and dehydration, two of the most common heat-related illnesses. Although she was lucky to be treated, other heat-related illnesses can reach crisis level and have permanent effects.

According to Chico State alumna Brittney Patera, M.S., registered dietitian and sports dietitian, dehydration is more common during heat waves and, in California’s case, droughts.

“When you lose a lot of sweat, you are losing a lot of electrolytes that are required for your muscles to function properly,” she said.

It is easy to get dehydrated during the day while exercising outside even if you have been drinking water. The best times to exercise are early in the morning or late in the evening, Patera said.

Although dehydration is among the most common, it is not the only heat-related illness. Other heat-related illnesses include:

  • Heat Exhaustion: This occurs when someone is exposed to the sun for too long and is often accompanied by dehydration. If it’s not treated fast, it can progress to a heat stroke.
  • Heat Cramps: These cramps can occur during exercise in hot environments. They can be brief and painful or cause muscle spasms.
  • Heat Stroke: This is the most serious form of a heat-related illness and must receive medical treatment. It can progress from other heat-related illnesses and cause problems for the brain and nervous system.

Symptoms of heat-related illness:

Many people go for long periods of time with a heat-related illness, not knowing why they may be feeling sick, Patera said. Signs of a possible heat-related illness can be:

  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations

Why it is important to stay hydrated:

Since our bodies are so heavily made up of water, replenishing the water we use is vital. Water also majorly boosts brainpower. When the body is experiencing dehydration, brain response time is not as quick.

Staying hydrated helps your mood as well. When your body is dehydrated, blood vessels will dilate and cause a headache-like feeling. Long-term effects of dehydration can include the risk of a heart attack. Water keeps the heart healthy, which is vital, according to Patera.

How to stay hydrated:

Patera recommends incorporating fruits and vegetables into one’s diet. Some fruits and vegetables that contain a lot of water are watermelon, apples, strawberries, lettuce and cucumbers.

She also recommends infusing water with fruit if it makes it more desirable for consumption. When exercising, it is important to replenish your body with electrolytes that are released through sweating, she said.

Electrolytes can be found in sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade. When Patera works with athletes facing dehydration after workouts, she uses sodium.

“We give them Powerade and mix in packets with 1,800 milligrams of salt which helps prevent muscle cramping,” she said. “Every cell in your body needs salt to function.”

How much you need:

There is one rule Chico State students can follow when questioning the amount of water they intake every day:

8 cups water/day and 1-3 cups/hour of activity.

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Patera advises not waiting until you are thirsty to drink water. Thirst could mean you are already dehydrated, and worse signs are on the way, she said.

“It’s a fine line between being really hot and reaching that level where you’re actually hurting yourself,” Lawson said.

Sarah Strausser can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.

 

 

 

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