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Doc Talk: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Doc Talk: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

By Dr. Nathan Levanger, DO

Outdoor adventure season is in full swing here in the valley. Whether it’s a day trip to the Wind Cave up Darby Canyon or an overnight camp-out in the Alaska Basin, our options are seemingly endless when it comes to hitting the trails.

Our high elevation, combined with long sunny days and stretches of temperatures in the 70s, 80s and 90s can pose some risk for unprepared adventure seekers.

Regardless if you plan to go for an hour or a day, it’s important to make a few key preparations.

First, always bring water on your trips. In warm months, hikers/bikers/climbers/runners should drink approximately one gallon of water per day, but that can vary based on your individual needs. In direct sunlight and with physical exertion, your fluid/electrolyte loss can happen faster than under cooler conditions. Sweat evaporates instantly in dry climates like ours, so it’s important to pay attention to any signs your body might need hydration. If hiking with children, pay attention to the water in their water bottles to make sure they are drinking enough and at an appropriate frequency. Ditto for dogs.  Don’t plan on finding sufficient watering holes for dogs to lap up; bring water for the pooches and remember that dogs are exerting energy while wearing fur coats. Also be aware that dogs may not stop to drink water at a creek or pond if their human partner is bike riding or running at a steady pace. You may have to stop and relax before your dog feels that he can take a break and lap up some water.

Second, dress in layers and loose-fitting, lightweight clothing to avoid heat exhaustion. Seek out shaded areas when hiking, and avoid sunburns. Also, if you are taking any medications, ask your doctor whether the medications could make you more susceptible to heat exhaustion or sunburn.

Third, bring a friend or family member along for the trip and avoid strenuous activity in the middle of the day, when the sun and heat are at their highest points.

Generally, by the time you are thirsty, you’re already somewhat dehydrated. To avoid this, drink 1/2 to 1 quart of water or electrolyte drink for every hour you hike.

Although most instances of dehydration are mild or moderate and can be easily resolved by drinking fluids, severe dehydration can also occur.  Signs of a serious problem include little or no urination, extreme dry mouth and skin, confusion, rapid heart-beat and unconsciousness.  Severe dehydration is a medical emergency.

Like any good Scout, you need to be prepared.  Water, sunscreen, good shoes, weather outlooks, and good directions should form the basis of every summer outing.

Dr. Nathan Levanger is a family practice physician offering patient care at Driggs Health Clinic located in Driggs Idaho.

This article originally appeared in the Teton Valley News.

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