Whether you’re a homeowner shoveling your driveway or a professional tower climber working in extremely cold conditions, winter can impact a person’s health in unexpected ways. Dehydration, in particular, is one of the most common afflictions brought on by the harsh winter months. Though it’s thought that dehydration is only due to the harsh heat of summer, the condition is also a risk in cold, dry weather patterns. Here is what you need to know about winter dehydration and how to protect yourself from it this winter season.
Causes of Winter Dehydration
It’s common knowledge that the winter air is often dry and coarse against our skin. However, awareness of dehydration is not as well recognized during cold, winter months. Outdoor air at a certain humidity loses moisture when the air is heated indoors. The indoor heated air becomes even dryer at higher altitudes in mid-rise and high-rise buildings. The lack of humidity in the winter reduces our body’s ability to retain our internal moisture, which also dries out skin and lips. Skin becomes fragile fragile and hands become cracked and lips become chapped. Dry air also causes our sweat to evaporate more quickly, and breathing dry air can also cause people to lose more water as dry air is inhaled and moist air is exhaled. Since we’re losing these fluids faster than we expect in winter, many individuals don’t realize they need to keep replenishing their supply of water.
Wearing extra clothing, such as heavy coats, long underwear and other pieces of warm clothing may help your body conserve heat, but the cumbersome clothing and the added weight can cause the body to work harder, which causes a person to lose more fluids by sweating — even if it is a slow imperceptible sweat. By working harder with cumbersome, heavy clothing, or by temporarily overheating while wearing heavy clothing in a heated room, a person can lose even more water via sweating.
The Effects Dehydration Has on the Body
Regardless of what season it is, the physical effects of dehydration remain the same. Individuals suffering from this condition will often experience headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, and general fatigue before they’ll even feel thirsty. As such, you’ll need to remain aware of how you’re feeling at all times to properly protect yourself. Cold weather can also cause “cold-induced diuresis” because cold weather causes blood flow to increase to internal organs. Blood supply is diverted from the skin by a process named peripheral vasoconstriction in order maintain core temperature. With peripheral vasoconstriction, the body inhibits heat loss on the skin surface and keeps heat in the core. However, the increased core blood flow is believed to increase mean arterial blood pressure. The kidneys are involved in regulating mean arterial blood pressure, and dump off extra fluid that is filtering through the kidneys to lower the mean arterial blood pressure. Some people, especially those that work outside, also anticipate “cold-induced diuresis” and drink less water with the intent of controlling the need to urinate, which can be especially inconvenient if you are working outside, and are interrupted by the need to remove layers of clothing to urinate. Some people also experience darker colored urine or strong smelling urine, which is a sign that their body might not be flushing out enough toxins properly, resulting in the more concentrated urine.
Tips for Preventing Dehydration this Winter
Winter dehydration is a serious threat to a person’s overall health. Therefore, you need to do what you can to mitigate its effects before you experience serious symptoms. For starters, you should drink more water than normal to keep your fluids at a healthy level. Though you may not feel thirsty at the time, that doesn’t mean that your body doesn’t need more water. If you aren’t a fan of cold water, you can even try a series of warm drinks to keep you hydrated, such as hot chocolate and tea.
GET ALERTS on Facebook.com/CardinalEmergencies
GET ALERTS on Facebook.com/ArlingtonCardinal
Stay informed with news from PublicSafetyReporter.com’s Emergencies Behind the Scenes Facebook page — Facebook.com/CardinalEmergencies.