(AFNS) â€” Anyone who has gone through basic military training knows how seriously the instructors take â€œhydrating,â€ but do the trainees really know why they are encouraged to drink water regularly and beyond thirst?
The human bodyâ€™s main goal is to maintain homeostasis, or balance, in all aspects of function. This includes maintaining a constant core internal temperature. Two main ways the body tries to combat overheating is by increasing blood flow to the skinâ€™s surface in order to dissipate heat and by releasing sweat through pores to cause conventional cooling. Replacing fluids that were lost through sweat and urine is therefore essential.
â€œWhen cooling mechanisms begin to decompensate, the results can be catastrophic if not dealt with early on,â€ said Dr. Peter Paily, of the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Family Medical Care Clinic. â€œThis can develop into heat illness.â€
There are three types, he said.
Heat cramps are painful, involuntary contractions usually developed in large muscle groups including the arms, legs and trunk. They result from dehydration and an extreme loss of electrolytes. If the body does not receive proper treatment, this can lead to heat exhaustion.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include rapid heart rate, fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting, headaches, blurred vision and possible fainting, Paily said.
If these symptoms are not taken seriously, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
This is a complete breakdown of the bodyâ€™s cooling system, he said. Common symptoms include body temperature surpassing 103 degrees; a stopping of sweat production; dry, flushed and red skin; headaches; weakness; lightheadedness and fainting; rapid pulse; shortness of breath; seizures; confusion; hallucinations; and unconsciousness.
â€œThis is a medical emergency that can lead to death,â€ Paily said. â€œCall 911 immediately and move the victim to a cool area, cool them with water and loosen constrictive clothing.â€
Four thousand Americans die from a heat-related illness each year, Paily said.
Although people of all age groups are at risk of getting heat illness, there are specific things that can make certain people more susceptible to it, said Brenda Wallsmith, a registered nurse at the clinic.
â€œThose at greatest risk for heat-related illness include infants and children up to 4 years of age, people 65 years of age and older, people who are overweight and people who are ill or on certain medications,â€ Wallsmith said.
While heat illness is a serious issue, precautionary actions can be surprisingly simple.
To prevent heat illness, people should stay hydrated; wear loose, light-colored clothing; get proper rest; and stay committed to having a healthy diet, Paily said.
â€œHeat-related illnesses … should not be taken lightly,â€ Paily said. â€œSymptoms can creep up on you faster than you think. So simply staying hydrated and taking precautions can prevent a fatal outcome from heat-related illness.â€