Am I Dehydrated? How to Tell – and How to Treat It

We all know the feeling – the one that creeps in after we have been active for awhile – your head starts pounding, exhaustion starts to kick in, and you’re drenched from sweating excessively… all the indicators that dehydration is just around the corner. You can be the most knowledgeable and well-equipped competitor, but dehydration is the great equalizer. Whether on the fireground, deployed, or working outside, recognize the symptoms of dehydration, and more importantly, know how to treat them to keep yourself in the game longer.

Make Hydration a Priority

Everyone has heard the stories of dehydration taking people down for the count – the athlete that goes down doing two-a-days in August, the triathlete that collapses before finishing their event, or the hiker that becomes disoriented after underestimating the terrain. However, concerns about proper hydration shouldn’t only be a priority only in extreme situations. This condition is attributed to underperformance on the job and during regular activity.

In 2009, New England Division I athletes were randomly tested for levels of hydration during periods of rest and activity in a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training. Of the athletes participating in the study, which included men and women across different sports, 66% were found to be dehydrated and 13% of that number were significantly dehydrated. The findings suggest that less attention is paid to hydration levels when hydration is just as important a factor in optimal performance as a quality training and nutrition plan.

How Can You Tell You’re Dehydrated?

To put it simply – dehydration occurs when the amount of fluid leaving the body, mainly water, is significantly greater than the amount entering the body. This is due to many reasons – sweating from excessive heat or exercise, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are all common causes. Blood tests, fluid measurement, and urinalysis are common assessments run by a healthcare provider, but when that is not an option, how do you know if you are experiencing dehydration? According to the Mayo Clinic, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Thirst
  • Less frequent urination and/or dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness, headaches, and confusion

How Do You Treat Dehydration?

Let your medic or EMT know immediately. They take it seriously, as dehydration can be life-threatening and is the precursor to more serious conditions like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If that is not an option, start with the obvious – begin to drink with water and slowly sip replacement fluids (electrolyte-containing drinks). Next, decrease body temperature and sweating by resting in shaded areas; this can help mitigate less severe forms of dehydration. If you do not have access to a water source and symptoms persist, it’s time to stop and call for help.

Remember, the best way to deal with the threat of dehydration is to prevent it all together. Your body needs water for temperature control, to maintain healthy blood pressure, to break down nutrients for cells, and to keep joints functioning smoothly. The United States Army, that runs missions across the globe, recommends drinking 50% (sedentary activity level) to 75% (active activity level) of your body weight in ounces. Other preventative measures include wearing easily breathable, moisture-wicking gear, carrying electrolyte tablets and water filters, avoiding caffeine and alcohol prior to physical activity, carrying a water bladder, and finding shady areas to take breaks and keep cool.

In most situations, avoiding dehydration is within your control, so remember, the best strategy is prevention.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical. This article is not intended to provide medical advice or be a substitute for a professional evaluation. Always consult with a qualified medical professional.

Caitlin Fitzgerald

While Caitlin is currently a full-time writer, she spent the last few years on call as a Firefighter/EMT and enjoyed every minute of it. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is currently working toward an associate degree in the health sciences to enhance her EMS skills.
Caitlin Fitzgerald

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