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Sunday December 17 2017
Avoiding Heat Stroke by Keeping the Body Hydrated
Baja Insider

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We continue to live and work in Baja year round. After our seemingly cooler than usual winter temperatures, this week in La Paz soared past 100°F. It's time to remind ourselves how important proper hydration is in your survival in this beautiful but harsh climate. In this article we will cover the physiology of hydration, the warning signs, prevention and treatments of dehydration to make your Baja Summer jut a little safer. 

 The circulation in your body helps to dissipate heat, but when the air temperature is higher than 90°F, cooling by sweat is the only way to prevent the body from overheating. Cooling though evaporation, or sweating, is only possible when your body has been provided with enough fluids. Failing to properly hydrate can result in dizziness, fainting, digestive problems and even death.

Dehydration can quickly lead to fatal collapse of the circulatory system because the heart and temperature control systems cannot dissipate the core heat of your body. Your body is a little furnace, pumping blood, breathing and digestive activity all generate heat deep in the core of your body. If you are working in the heat, the activity of the muscles generates even more energy. If you haven't consumed enough fluids to sweat and cool itself, your body core temperature will rise and begin to destroy tissues and organs. Collapse can come on quickly, although the body gives fair warning of the problem, many people fail to react to the warning signs.

What happens to the body during heat stroke?

As the core temperature of the body rises blood flowing to the brain becomes over heated. Brain cells are damaged over 102°F. Liver, kidney and heart cells can take a beating too. Disorientation, frustration and irrational behavior are symptoms which can also lead to a worsening of the situation, particularly if you are alone. Vision can become burred and hallucinations can occur. The body will weaken to the point where even providing movement can become exhaustive.

Hydration in Very Arid Desert Conditions

Working in desert our conditions requires planning and preparation. Your daily diet and how much viable fluid you consume plays a part in how well you can function in the heat. Heavy meals can divert blood flow to the gut, reducing the body's ability to cool itself. So eat small light meals more often instead of a single large meal. The breeze that cools you is also the breeze that dries you out. The fact that you feel cooler in a breeze indicates that water is evaporating and needs to be replaced.
Plan on short days, starting as early as light allows. carry a light portable shelter and wear breathable cotton clothing. Drink plenty of water.

How Many Birthdays & Your Weight affects risk of overheating

How old you are has a profound effect on your susceptibility to heat related problems. After the age of 50 you are subject to increasing risk of over heating. After age 65 your are more than twice as likely to suffer heat related problems as someone in their 30's. The larger you are the more at risk you are too. The distance from your skin to your body center and the amount of fat insulating the core dramatically effect the body's ability to cool itself.

Ways to prevent Heat Stroke and Overheating

Drink continuously, small amounts at a time are more quickly absorbed than bolting down two glasses at a time. Working outside you should consume up to 8 liters per day in our Baja climate. Two liters per day is an absolute minimum for safety. Carbonated beverages and beer are not as effective at replacing body fluids and the alcohol actually increases your dehydration. Plain water at room temperature is the most quickly absorbed for re-hydration. Taking very cold beverages can be refreshing but actually closes the portals of absorption in your system and can lead to shock if you are nearing a crisis point. Some experts recommend lightly salted beverages, fruit juice tints and the addition of potassium to balance salts lost in sweating.

What you lose when sleeping is important too. Your lungs need to keep moist to properly process the oxygen into your system. During the night the inhaling and exhaling of the dry Baja air can rob your body of a lot of fluids. Starting the day with juice or a large glass of water helps replace these fluids. Coffee is just a bad idea during the hot weather, as a diuretic it robs your system of even more fluids.
Overdoing the alcoholic beverages even the night before can increase your risk of dehydration. Having done a great deal of mountaineering at high altitudes, our rule of thumb was you should need to urinate at least every two hours. The clearer the urine, the better hydrated you should be. Another rule of thumb is if your lips are dry, drink. Dry, cracked lips can be a sign of long term dehydration.

Clothing is important. Loose fitting, breathable clothing can help wick the moisture away from your body and increase the evaporative cooling. Protecting your skin from the sun prevents solar heating of the skin which is trying to dissipate the heat and also prevents sunburn. Wearing a light colored hat protects the face and keeps the brain case cooler. Take the time to erect a shade over a work area if possible. It may take a bit more time but will pay-off before mid-day in Baja. Water-proof sunscreens may actually block pores in their effort to help cool the body.

What to Do if you suffer Heat Stroke

Immediately get out of the sun and seek shelter. Begin to reintroduce fluids to the system, cool water is the best. (very cold water may prove a shock to the system and exacerbate the symptoms) Drink it gently. Apply cooling compresses to points of high blood flow like the neck, wrists and inner thighs. Covering the victim in waterproof material and dousing with water is known to be successful in extreme cases. Rapid immersion in cold water of a victim in a critical state can be very dangerous, leading to stroke and heart attack. Immersion of the wrists and ankles in pans of cold water is effective. Do not leave a person suffering from heat stroke or dehydration alone. Anyone suffering visible effects should seek medical attention.

So after a little preparation, get out there and enjoy this warm Baja weather. Work slowly and deliberately, be willing to take breaks and know how to listen to the warning signs your body will give. So enjoy!


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