Winter is not typically a time when we are concerned about dehydration. However, when it is cold, the body’s thirst response is significantly diminished, sweat evaporates more quickly, and we lose more water just by breathing. (When you can see your breath, water is leaving your body through respiration.) We are also wearing warmer, heavier clothing, so our bodies are working harder which contributes to fluid loss.
The average adult needs to drink 100 ounces (3 quarts) of water per day to function properly. Organs, muscles, joints and tissues do not function well without proper hydration. Herbal teas and juices can be substituted for water. Consuming fruits and vegetables also help bring water into the body. However, caffeinated beverages, soda and alcohol are dehydrating. Drinking water throughout the day and carrying a re-usable water bottle is a very healthy year-round habit. Drinking 20 ounces of water with meals will get you over halfway to your daily water requirement.
Infants, young children and older adults are most at risk for winter dehydration. Have your kids come in regularly for water, warm clear soup, or juice if they are out romping in the snow. Toddlers and babies need fluids regularly because of their relatively small body size and high turnover of water and electrolytes. As we age, our thirst sense is reduced which increases the risk of dehydration. The elderly are also more likely to be on medications that can have diuretic side-effects.
Mild dehydration is easily treated by drinking more fluids. Be sure to drink water after physical exertion, like shoveling snow. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps, muscle fatigue and overall exhaustion. Other signs of dehydration include thirst, dark-colored urine, dizziness, sleepiness and dry skin. Coma and organ failure can occur if dehydration is untreated.