Parkland physician warns of winter dehydration

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 1/6/2014, 10:49 a.m.
As the leaves turn a rainbow of fall colors, frost glistens on the ground and the air is dry from ...

Special to The Dallas Examiner

As the leaves turn a rainbow of fall colors, frost glistens on the ground and the air is dry from a blustery chill, Parkland Health and Hospital System physicians caution that dehydration can occur just as easily during the winter as it does in the summer. And the consequences can be just as serious.

Besides loss of fluid from daily activities, outdoor winter sports can cause just as much dehydration as summer sports. Factors such as cold dry air, wind chill, inadequate fluid intake, sweating and even shivering all contribute to dehydration during outdoor winter sports.

“As you move around in the cold, you may not be sweating, but water is still being lost through your breath in the form of steam you see coming from your mouth in frigid temperatures,” said Alexander Eastman M.D., Parkland’s interim trauma medical director. “When we have a patient brought in to the Emergency Department during the winter they may have multiple problems beyond the effects of the cold.”

Problems, such as finding a vein for an IV, can be more difficult when it’s cold outside. Winter can accelerate dehydration because nearly everyone has an internal survival mechanism that constricts blood vessels in cold weather, to conserve heat and maintain body temperature, explained Eastman.

Regardless, the effects of winter dehydration can be just as devastating as during warmer months and the consequences can be complicated as it can accelerate hypothermia, frostbite or fatigue. Symptoms of dehydration can also include exhaustion, muscle cramps, loss of coordination, even stroke. When dehydrated, people can also become more susceptible to winter colds and the flu.

Eastman also cautions that consuming too much caffeine in tea, soda or coffee may act as a diuretic by flushing water out of your system and contribute to dehydration. Avoid alcoholic beverages. Not only does alcohol increase the chance of hypothermia, it can cloud your judgment, impair your sense of direction and weaken your decision-making ability in a cold weather emergency.

“The key is to pay attention to your body, drink plenty of water and pace yourself,” Eastman said. “Once you start getting thirsty, it’s too late. You are already in the early stages of dehydration. It’s important that you don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink fluids, winter or summer.”