Are you dehydrated? If you think the answer is "no" just because you're not thirsty, think again.
The hot summer months are peak travel times, and as we've talked about before, they carry their own share of risks for both pilots and aircraft. This week, we want to discuss in detail the dangers of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke in aviation. Pilots find themselves at greater risk for these conditions due to low water intakes, consumption of fluids such as coffee and soda, and continual operations in hot, dry environments such as ramp areas.
Experts generally recommend consuming 2-4 quarts of water in a given 24-hour period. At eight ounces a glass, two quarts is about eight glasses. This number assumes you're not losing excessive amounts of water, such as you might through vigorous exercise or working in the heat. Your results may also vary based on your physical condition and acclimation to the environment you're in.
Avoiding dehydration is accomplished by staying ahead of your body. Thirst is an unreliable indicator; by the time you begin to feel thirsty, you're likely already dehydrated, and if you don't replenish your water supply, more symptoms will set in quickly. Seek medical attention if headaches, lightheadedness, fatigue, inhibited decision-making capabilities, fatigue, dizziness, or hypoxia set in.
At the extreme ends of dehydration are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you suspect either of these conditions in yourself or another crew member during flight, land as soon as possible and seek medical attention. If on the ground, immediately get indoors and seek help. Drink water, apply cool, wet rags to the head and neck, stay out of direct sunlight, and get into air conditioning or under a fan as soon as you can.
The best way to prevent dehydration is to develop a habit of constantly drinking water. Keep a bottle of cool water with you at all times and refill it often. This ensures that you are always reminded of the need to drink, and that you have a backup in case you do begin to experience dehydration. Do not rely on thirst to tell you when to drink. Stay ahead of your need for water, especially if you know you'll be in hot or dry weather for even short periods.
Water and heat aren't the only factors to take into account. You'll also need to replenish lost electrolytes if engaged in high-energy physical activity or if you spend too much time in the sun. Most common sports drinks can achieve this with no trouble, and also serve as a suitable alternative if you find plain water difficult to drink in large quantities. Avoid soda, sugary drinks, or caffeine, though. These beverages will dehydrate you faster, as they are diuretics and will stimulate urine production.
Finally, keep your body's condition over time in mind, too. If you must work in a hot environment regularly, take cool showers in the evenings and rest in a cool area as soon as your shift is over. Do not work outside on days off, but do continue to drink water. Keep your body in good physical health, hydrated, and cool to ensure you stay safe during the hottest months of the year.
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