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Hydration: Fit to Fight first line of defense

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- A recent change to the Airman's Manual was released, and in case you missed it, it was implemented to ensure all Airmen are able to recognize the symptoms of heat stroke. 

Currently the manual lists several symptoms of heat stroke including "Hot, dry skin (no sweating)." The Surgeon General recommends changing that symptom to read "Hot skin, wet or dry," and to add the symptom of "possible altered mental status". These changes may seem insignificant,  but it is important that we all recognize the symptoms of heat stroke and take immediate action. If a person shows signs of heat stroke, it is a "no kidding" medical emergency.

Plan ahead
Considering the extreme temperatures we deal with in eastern New Mexico and the areas where we deploy, it is critical for all of us to be familiar with the warning signs of heat-related illness.  It is more important, however, to know how to prevent them. The best thing we can do to prevent heat stress is to stay hydrated. 

Typically, 60 percent of a person's body weight is water and is the most crucial nutrient for our bodies. Water is essential to maintaining proper body temperature. It also flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to cells and provides moisture for ear, nose and throat tissues. Our bodies lose water through breathing, perspiration, and urination, so water must be replaced regularly.

The amount of water required varies between individuals, but there are a few guidelines to determine if you are maintaining adequate hydration:

Replace fluid loss -- The average healthy adult living in a temperate climate loses about 2 liters of fluid per day so drinking 2 liters of water per day will generally be adequate.

Consider environment -- Hot climates, high elevations and heated rooms cause the body to lose more water, so intake must be adjusted accordingly.

Consider workload -- Higher workloads, especially in the environments listed above, cause substantial water loss and require increased intake.

Urination -- This is probably the most practical way to tell if you are adequately hydrated. Urine should be colorless or slightly yellow. If urine output is a darker color, you are falling behind in your hydration.

Drink water regularly
A good habit to get into is carrying a bottle of water and drink small amounts throughout the entire day. If you wait until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated by about two percent of your body weight. If you become three percent dehydrated, your ability to perform physical activities will be reduced by as much as 50 percent. Avoid "chugging" large amounts of water. This practice sometimes leads to frequent urination that limits the hydration process.

Can I drink too much water?
It is possible to drink too much water, however most people should probably be concerned about not drinking enough. There are extreme cases of people drinking so much water that they created a state of "water intoxication" where the body's electrolytes become extremely diluted. A woman died from this condition recently while participating in a water-drinking contest sponsored by a radio station. These cases are rare; if you maintain a proper diet, it is difficult to drink too much water.

I hate water...what else can I drink?
Water is usually the best option to replace fluid loss but if you absolutely can't stand to drink it, sugar-free flavored water is a good option. Sports drinks are also good, especially when participating in strenuous activities. Beverages that contain sugar and caffeine are not "off limits" but should not be used as the only source of fluid intake. Some foods provide the body with water as well so drinking water is not the only way to hydrate but it is the preferred method.

Remember, hydration is the most important element in a plan to prevent heat casualties. Full hydration is critical because it is essential to maintain both blood volume for constant internal temperature and sweating. Dehydration reduces both. Consequently, a dehydrated Airman is less able to maintain body temperature in the heat. Airmen are optimally capable to manage heat stress when fully hydrated, physically fit, acclimated, well nourished and well rested.

Fit to Fight
All Airmen have the responsibility of being able to provide Self-Aid and Buddy Care when necessary. Given the environments where we often serve, recognition of potential heat-related injuries is important to all of us. Preventing heat-related injuries needs to become part of our day-to-day lifestyle.

For more information on this or other topics such as fatigue countermeasures or endurance management, call 784-7802 or 784-2584.