Warning signs and solutions for dehydration

Beware of any feelings of dizziness or an inordinate loss of performance.
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It's a warm Sunday afternoon and you toss the volleyball back and forth as the sun feels hotter and hotter on your bare feet. Even as your skin takes on a shiny glow, you feel tired, thirsty and sweaty. Drink now or you could put yourself in danger.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids and blood salts like potassium and sodium than you take in. Vital organs can't function without a certain minimum of water and salt. The blood turns the consistency of thick catsup, forcing the heart to pump that much harder.

Even a 1 percent loss of fluid can affect athletic performance. At 5 percent, you'll experience problems with concentration, drowsiness, vomiting, impatience and headaches. At 7 percent, there's a good chance of collapsing. A 15 percent loss of fluid requires hospitalization to restore a normal balance of fluids and electrolytes.

To avoid such problems, be alert for these warning signs:

  • Urine isn't the usual color of lemonade, it looks more like beer.

  • Mouth and/or throat feels parched. Your lips are dry.

  • Muscles cramp.

  • Performance slips.

  • You feel dizzy, woozy, on the verge of collapse.

  • You sweat excessively or you stop sweating. Your body is out of balance.

  • Your pulse weakens, hands and feet turn cold.

    Solution: Drink several glasses of water immediately. Some conditioned athletes can rebound quickly. If you have any other medical problems or if your pulse is erratic, see a doctor as quickly as possible.

    Facts on food, fluids and perspiration

    When you sweat through a workout, you can lose up to 2.5 liters an hour. Make sure you replace it with fluids that will restore your momentum.

  • Drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day. Drink before, during and after exercise. If you are at all thirsty, you are probably dehydrated.

  • Sport drinks like Gatorade that contain salt and potassium work best when exercising two hours or more. You would do as well with a banana, handful of salted nuts and several glasses of water.

  • Avoid caffeine, colas and alcohol while working out. Some athletes like defizzed Coke to give them a jolt, but caffeine serves as a diuretic that prompts fluid loss. On hot days when people sweat a great deal, this could lead to quicker dehydration. It takes 8 ounces of water to make up for drinking 1.5 ounces of alcohol.

  • Eat fruits and vegetables because they are rich in water.

    How to cope with sweat

    Some people avoid exercise because sweat causes an irritating rash in all the friction areas: neck, armpits, inner thighs. Thousands of people suffer from prickly heat, called miliaria, an obstruction of the sweat ducts.

    What can you do? Dr. Tor Shwayder, director of pediatric dermatology at Henry Ford Health System, suggests:

  • Powder up with baking soda or talc before going out.

  • Wear loose, absorbent clothing made of natural fibers.

  • Exercise in early morning or late evening, instead of noon when the sun is at its peak.

  • Take cool showers after exercising to cool down. Use powder when getting dressed.

  • Lose weight to lessen friction between body parts.

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