Information adapted from the CDC

In the first part of our “Summer Bummers” series we discussed the hazards associated with exposure to heat.  One heat-related illness, dehydration, was a big enough topic that we felt it deserved it’s own post.  Dehydration can range from feeling slightly off and ill to a full-blown medical emergency, so it is crucial to know the signs before you venture out in the summer sun.

Why we need water

Water is crucial for body composition and performance of essential functions.  Fun fact: the average human body is comprised of 60% water!  This percent varies among body types, as children have a higher concentration of water than adults, and men have a higher concentration than women.  Water can be found all throughout the body, even in less squishy parts like bones.

A more scientific answer for why we need water, it’s important for cellular function.  Cells use water for transporting both nutrients and waste in a process called osmosis.  Excess minerals, like sodium, potassium, and calcium will be removed from the body through water, either through sweat or urine.  One of the wastes that cells can eliminate through water is excess heat, which is why we sweat during the summer or from vigorous exercise. Sweating too much, or merely not replacing the liquid we regularly lose due to urination and respiration, can cause dehydration.


Chronic dehydration can cause a slew of problems, including unclear thinking, mood change, constipation, and kidney stones.  Dehydration also increases the likelihood of heat-related illness, as described in our last post.  Fortunately, the signs of acute dehydration are rather easy to spot once you know them.  The biggest sign that you are beginning to feel dehydrated is feeling thirsty.  If your body is wanting water, drink it!  Other, perhaps less obvious signs are:

  • dark yellow and strong-smelling pee (see chart below)
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • feeling tired
  • a dry mouth, lips and eyes
  • peeing little, and fewer than 4 times a day

If you are feeling any of these symptoms, it’s a good opportunity to drink more water before it becomes more serious.  Contrary to what you may have been taught, there is no set number for how many cups of water you should have per day to prevent dehydration.  6-8 cups per day may be a good estimate, but it is important to adjust this amount based on size, level of activity, external temperature and personal health variables (ex. diabetes, diarrhea, fevers, and other conditions require more water).  Again: drink water if you are thirsty!

Water During an Emergency

All of this is easy enough on a normal, “blue sky” day, but what about when drinking water is scarce?  Common disasters, such as floods, hurricanes or pipeline problems can limit the amount of available drinking water.  The CDC recommends having at least 1 gallon of water per person in your emergency kit.  If no stored bottled water is available, unscented chlorine at a concentration of 5-9% can also be used to help sanitize contaminated water.  Filtering and boiling your water (instructions can be found here from the EPA) can also do in a pinch.

Remember, water is a vital nutrient you need year round, but especially during the hot months.

Hydrate, don’t die-drate, McDonough County!