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Wednesday June 6, 2001

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Doctors give advice for avoiding dehydration, heat exhaustion

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Media arts junior Josh Fry takes a break from his summer school classes at the University Heights Apartments pool Monday afternoon. Tucson doctors say hydration and common sense can help students avoid sun-related illnesses this summer.

By Cyndy Cole

Arizona Summer Wildcat

UMC docs say out-of-state students at most risk for developing heat-related illnesses

Two cross-country runners cross the finish line after a six-mile run.

They fall to the ground, not out of joy for finishing the race, but out of a severe case of dehydration.

Such was the story at the NCAA Track and Field Regionals three years ago, as remembered by Michael R. Stilson, a physician in the sports medicine department at University of Arizona's Campus Health.

But heat-related illnesses such as dehydration and heat exhaustion can affect students who are non-athletes as well.

"Dehydration is fairly common in college students because they don't drink enough water and are more physically active than other adults, losing water through perspiration and breathing," said Dr. Mauricio Valencia of El Rio Health Center.

Out-of-state students are more likely to experience dehydration than their in-state counterparts.

"Out-of-state students are not used to the fluid requirements here in summer," said Dr. Harvey Meislin, director of the Arizona Emergency Medical Research Center at the UA Health Sciences Center. "They think that if they're not thirsty, they don't need fluids."

Waiting for thirst is not an adequate indicator of dehydration, Valencia said.

"One liter (of fluids) is already depleted when you start feeling thirsty," Valencia said, adding that symptoms of dehydration can be felt in as little as 20 minutes after exposure to heat.

Dry lips and tongue, dark-colored urine, dry-looking skin that has lost its elasticity, increased heart rate and breathing, dizziness and confusion can all be signs of dehydration, added Meislin.

Normal urine output is good way to gauge hydration, Meislin said.

"Forget about thirst, think about urinating," he added.

"You should be peeing every four to six hours and the urine should be clear," Stilson said.

Meislin said drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated.

"Those (who are) outside should drink one quart per hour or more, depending upon body size," Meislin said.

Students should prepare for exercise by drinking 20-40 ounces of water half an hour before they start exercising, Stilson said.

"If you're exercising for more than one hour, drink 20-40 ounces every hour, including carbohydrate-replacement drinks," Stilson said.

Meislin and Valencia also recommended popsicles, Jell-O, sports drinks and watered-down juices for those who want a little flavor in their hydration.

They also advised students to avoid drinks containing caffeine and alcohol because they drain the body of fluids by causing more frequent urination.

Flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, and cramps can be indicators of heat exhaustion, a more severe heat-related illness, Meislin said.

If any of these signs appear, Meislin and Stilson agree it is urgent to move the person affected into shade or indoors.

Someone suffering from heat exhaustion may be hot and incoherent, yet not sweating, he added.

"People with heat exhaustion (on campus) are usually not brought in," Stilson said. "They feel crummy, and know enough to get indoors."

To keep cool, wear cotton clothing that is absorbent, loose, and covering, Meislin said.

"The best prevention from dehydration is to know where you're going, how long you'll be there, and being prepared for unexpected circumstances," Meislin said.