GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - We're coming off a cool stretch of days, but most of us know the heat will soon be coming on strong.
And that heat can pose a real threat to athletes, young and old, all over the metro who are playing baseball, soccer, cross country, lacrosse and a whole host of other sports.
To complicate matters, there is also a risk of over-hydration, typically in runners or endurance athletes. It’s called exercise-associated hyponatremia.
Carolyn McClain, Medical Director of The Urgency Room, shares some knowledge about dehydration and ways to prevent it.
Here are some of the questions we asked the doctor:
• We’ve got the 4th of July coming up and that’s a time you often see dehydration in your patients. Why?
The 4th is typically very hot here in Minnesota. Add to that the fact that many are drinking alcohol (which dehydrates you even further) and sitting outside in the heat or even on a boat. All of those factors can really put you at risk. I tell patients, if you’re going to drink a beer on a hot, hot day, drink one glass of water per beer and of course, drink responsibly.
• We see a lot of bikers in Minnesota and you say this is a sport where dehydration is common.
Yes. Many of these bikers are middle-aged men and women out on pavement that is hot. As we get older, our thirst mechanism isn’t as fine-tuned. Additionally, the wind from biking makes it hard for these athletes to notice how much they are sweating and how much water they are losing. Add to that the fact that it’s hard to stop, especially when you’re in a pack of bikers. We commonly see dehydration with bikers.
• Young athletes are also at risk these days with evening games for sports like soccer, lacrosse and baseball?
As a rule of thumb, especially in hot, humid conditions, athletes need to take regular water breaks during a game. Signs that these athletes are dehydrated include decreased athletic performance, maybe walking when the athlete should be running. Feeling nauseated or complaining of a headache are also signs the athlete needs to sit out and hydrate.
• What is Water Loading?
This is simply the practice of hydrating hours before a sport or strenuous activity. You want to be well hydrated at the start of the game, for example, to further reduce your risk of dehydration or heat exhaustion. Then, also drink at regular intervals (every 20 minutes at least) during the activity.
• Why is salt so important when it comes to hydration?
Not taking in salt when you exercise for prolonged periods can prevent you from retaining the water that you drink. It can also block thirst, so you may not know that you are dehydrated. This is the basis for a condition called exercise-associated hyponatremia. This disorder can develop when marathon runners or endurance event athletes drink more fluid, usually water or sports drinks, than their kidneys can excrete. This excess water can severely dilute the level of sodium in the blood needed for organs, especially the brain, to function properly. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, etc. Though rare, this condition can cause death.
• What is the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion occurs when a person has not been properly hydrated. They may feel nauseated, have a headache and feel weak. By comparison, heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening medical emergency. When a person is suffering from heat stroke, their body loses the ability to regulate its own temperature leading to brain damage or death if it's not treated quickly. Prompt medical treatment is required.