Dehydration can happen just as easily in colder weather as it can during the summer months. According to the Mayo Clinic, you can become dehydrated in the cold from sweating, breathing, the drying power of the winter wind, and increased urine production. Yet, fewer people recognize the signs of dehydration in the winter, so it may be even more of a risk during winter months.
Why is Hydration So Important?
Drinking fluids is crucial to staying healthy and maintaining the function of every system in your body, including your heart, brain, and muscles. Fluids carry nutrients to your cells, flush bacteria from your bladder, and prevent constipation. Hydration in the cold weather is essential to providing fuel and energy to body parts to help facilitate heat production. Although most doctors do not recommend a one size fits all for water consumption, most people are fine with drinking to thirst (around 30-60 oz. per day). Water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are also a good source of water. Proper hydration is especially important in cold weather as dehydration negatively affects the body's resistance to cold weather, increasing the chance for cold weather injuries.
Signs of Dehydration
Recognizing the signs of dehydration is critical in order to correct the lack of water in the body. Mild to moderate dehydration is often characterized by dry mouth, sleepiness, thirst, decreased urine output, dry skin, headache, weakness, constipation, and dizziness or lightheadedness. Symptoms of severe dehydration include: extreme thirst, extreme fussiness or sleepiness in infants, very dry mouth and skin, little to no urine output, dark urine, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, stomach cramps or vomiting, no tears when crying, and fever.
What to do if You Are Dehydrated
If you suspect that you are severely dehydrated, it is important to go to the emergency room immediately. If you are mildly to moderately dehydrated, start the rehydration process with water or coconut water. Warm liquids can be consumed more readily in a cold environment than cold beverages. If snow is present, don’t eat it, as this will use up body heat and it might be contaminated. Don’t drink too much too quickly, as this can overwhelm your stomach and your kidneys. Eat foods that are rich in electrolytes, such as kiwis, bananas, nut butters, and yogurt.
If electrolyte-rich foods aren’t available, aim for a sports drink to help restore lost minerals. Try to avoid drinks that act as diuretics, such as coffee and alcohol. These types of drinks will increase urine production and slow the re-hydration process.
Prevention is Best! How to Prevent Dehydration
You can prevent dehydration from becoming severe by monitoring symptoms closely and hydrating at the first signs of dehydration. For those who are sick, hydrating at the first sign of diarrhea, vomiting, or fever is crucial. For those who are exercising (especially outside), drinking plenty of water before, during, and after exercise, should help prevent dehydration. People who exercise outside in humid weather are at higher risk for dehydration, e.g. endurance athletes and those in the military.
Extra weight from supplies and gear can accelerate dehydration. Wearing the right clothing can help reduce water loss through sweat. Light weight, loose clothing aides in heat loss and sweat evaporation. Layers are also a good idea in the winter months. This allows you to adjust your clothing to match the temperature and your activity level on an as-needed basis.
Prevention is key when it comes to dehydration. By fueling up with the right foods and drinks, and wearing the right clothing, you can dramatically reduce your risk for dehydration.