If you wait until you’re thirsty, it’s too late.
Thirst is just one symptom of dehydration, but you shouldn’t wait until you’re parched to drink water, according to Alison Harris, a nurse for on-demand healthcare provider DispatchHealth.
Although staying adequately hydrated is something to be mindful of all year long, it should be especially top of mind in the summer, Harris said.
• There’s more to dehydration than you might think. In addition to increased thirst, dehydration has other common symptoms including dark urine, dry skin, headaches and muscle cramps.
“Sometimes it’s a very vague symptom,” Harris said. These ambiguous symptoms include feeling sleepy, tired, irritable or confused.
In severe but rare cases, symptoms of dehydration can include convulsions and even delirium.
“Those are the ones that happen quickly,” Harris said.
• It can take time for dehydration to settle in. After spending time outside on a hot day, it might seem obvious to get a drink, but in some cases, dehydration can happen hours or even days later.
“Your body is great at compensating until it can’t,” Harris said. This is why experts recommend hydrating days before strenuous activity, such as a marathon, and not waiting until that day.
• It doesn’t need to be hot outside. The summer heat plays a role in dehydration, but it doesn’t take triple-digit temperatures to reach a breaking point.
Other weather conditions — such as humidity levels and dew points — also play a role in how much someone sweats. When it’s muggy outside and humidity and dew points are high, someone might sweat more even if temperatures are relatively mild.
Once the dew point — a measure of water vapor in the air — reaches 60 degrees, conditions will feel slightly muggy. When dew points reach 70 to 75 degrees, the air feels thick and oppressive, according to the National Weather Service.
“Make sure you’re listening to your body,” Harris said. “Make sure you’re not afraid to get help.”
• There’s no magic number on the amount of water to drink. Experts often cite the 8×8 rule: eight 8-ounce glasses per day. That’s a good general rule, but everybody is different, so some people might need more and others less.
Other experts recommend measuring daily water intake based on weight. That’s another solid rule, but Harris said it doesn’t account for other factors, such as how many minutes someone exercises per day, what climate that person lives in and how much caffeine or alcohol that person consumes in a day.
Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, which cause people to lose fluids, Harris said.
“Even if you’re drinking a lot, it comes right back out,” she said.
• It takes more than just water. To stay optimally hydrated, the body needs a mix of water and electrolytes.
If they’re not doing so already, anyone who exercises regularly in the heat or spends several hours outdoors should consider drinking sports drinks to replace electrolytes lost through sweat.
— Jesus Jimenez, The Dallas Morning News