Dodging Dehydration

1 May 2009 By Pamela Lee Sanders, R.N., MedAire, Inc.

Although your guests might think that it’s all fun and games the minute they board, they – and the crew – should be aware of the health consequences of too much fun in the sun.

Dehydration is one of the most common culprits for vacationing seagoers, who may not be aware of the increased risk of fluid depletion simply by virtue of their watery setting. Exposure to salt in ocean waters actually draws water from the body, causing increased sweating and fluid loss.

When that factor is combined with other circumstances – prolonged outdoor sports, sunburn, alcohol consumption and less water intake due to busy schedules – dehydration can result.

Dehydration Symptoms – What to Look For:

Yes, it’s true that by the time you “feel thirsty,” it's likely your body is already dehydrated and in need of replenishing water. But in addition, you or your guests may notice:
-A decrease in urination

  • -Concentrated, dark urine (tea-colored urine signals severe, sometimes-life-threatening dehydration)
  • -Feeling faint, dizzy or weak
  • -Rapid heartbeat
  • -Dry mouth, fuzzy tongue
  • -Mental confusion
  • -Decreased sweating

When dehydration occurs, the body is losing extracellular fluid – fluids outside the cells, such as those contained in the blood and other body cavities. To compensate for this decrease in fluids, the body pulls water out of the cells (intracellular fluid) to try to establish a balance.

In doing so, the cellular fluids become highly concentrated, resulting in higher levels of salt, potassium and glucose. Your kidneys also will react, resulting in darker urine. Such changes in the body’s acid base can pose serious threats, even to healthy individuals – but especially to diabetic individuals, or those with long-standing medical problems such as kidney stones or heart disease. In tropical settings, dehydration also can cause the body to overheat, resulting in heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

Tips for Avoiding Dehydration

  • Drink plenty of water. Even if you can’t consume the recommended eight glasses of water per day for proper hydration, keeping a water bottle on hand and taking sips all day long can help with fluid intake. When you are active or in the sun, even more water is recommended.
  • Avoid large quantities of coffee and soda if you plan to be in the sun or exercising, as they contribute to dehydration.
  • Apply the “moderation rule:” alcohol, sun and sports in moderation.
  • Wear sunscreen. When you have a sunburn, your body sends blood to the affected area, taking along with it fluids to assist in the healing process. This fluid transfer can contribute to dehydration.

    If you notice a guest or crew member exhibiting dehydration symptoms, a medical evaluation should be conducted by your telemedicine provider to assess the severity of the situation. Providing thorough details to the treating physician will aid him or her in recommending an appropriate course of treatment: Does the person have a sunburn? Has he/she been drinking? Participating in outdoor sports? Is he/she taking any medications? Does he/she have allergies? Is he/she on diuretics for elevated blood pressure? Is he/she a diabetic?

For guests and crew who are paying close attention to the signals their body is sending – urination frequency, thirst, urine color – simply consuming more water at the onset of those symptoms can to help ward off dehydration.