Dehydration—A Silent Killer

Humans lose an average of 4 to 6 pints (2 to 3 liters) of fluids every day; even in a cool resting position, you will lose about 2 pints (1 liter) of water.

Although anyone can become dehydrated from losing fluids, one group with a greater risk of dehydration according to the Mayo Clinic is:  “People working or exercising outside in hot, humid weather.  When it’s hot and humid, your risk of dehydration and heat illness increases.  That’s because when the air is humid, sweat can’t evaporate and cool you as quickly as it normally does, and this can lead to an increased body temperature and the need for more fluids.”

Most archaeologists probably suffer from some level of dehydration during fieldwork.  When I worked in Illinois, for instance, I didn’t have to urinate at the dig site (where we worked in the sun for 9 hours a day) for the entirety of the first four weeks of the season.  It wasn’t until one Sunday (my day off!) when I was so dizzy and weak that I couldn’t stand up after a particularly hot week in the field at Fort Michilimackinac that I realized how serious dehydration could get.

WebMD has the scoop on the symptoms you need to watch out for:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
  • Sluggishness
  • Fainting

Seek medical care right away if the symptoms develop into the following:

  • Increased or constant vomiting for more than a day
  • Fever over 101°F
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased urine production
  • Weakness

Get to the Hospital Emergency Room immediately if the symptoms progress even further:

  • Fever higher than 103°F
  • Sluggishness (lethargy)
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest or abdominal pains
  • No urine in the last 12 hours

Not surprisingly, the best cure for dehydration is water.  It’s vitally important that the water be consumed frequently in small amounts rather than in a large amount all at once!  Beyond water, other home solutions for dehydration include:  (1) bland foods like soda crackers, bananas, and flavored gelatins; (2) watery fruits and vegetables like cantaloupe and strawberries; (3) salty foods like pretzels and salted nuts; (4) sports drinks; and (5) ice cubes and popsicles.

John Wiseman, who served in the British Special Air Service for 26 years, provides seven ways to minimize fluid loss in an emergency situation:

  1. “Avoid exertion.  Just rest.”
  2. “Don’t smoke.”
  3. “Keep cool.  Stay in shade.  If there is none erect a cover to provide it.”
  4. “Do not lie on hot ground or heated surfaces.”
  5. “Don’t eat, or eat as little as possible.  If there is no water available fluid will be taken from the vital organs to digest food, further increasing dehydration.  Fat is hardest to digest and takes a lot of fluid to break it down.”
  6. “Never drink alcohol.  This also takes fluid from vital organs to break it down.”
  7. “Don’t talk—and breathe through the nose, not the mouth.”

But remember, always consult your own health care professional for your individual health questions and concerns!