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Drink Up! Tips on Preventing Winter Dehydration

Drink up! Tips on Preventing Winter Dehydration

There’s an old saying that if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. After all, your body knows when the ol’ water tank could use a top off—that’s why you have thirst sensations. Thirst sensations are normal—they’re used by your body to regulate blood pressure and nutrient imbalances. Dehydration, however, is a serious medical condition.

If you don’t listen to your thirst sensations, you could wind up dehydrated! Preventing winter dehydration is especially important because many people don’t realize they are at risk of becoming dehydrated in the winter.

Keep reading to learn how to protect yourself from winter dehydration.

How Does Winter Dehydration Happen?

Surprisingly, there are many ways you can become dehydrated in winter. In fact, studies show your risk of becoming dehydrated increases in cold weather!

Decreased Thirst Sensation

Thirst sensation decreases in the winter, so people typically drink less water in cold weather, which can lead to dehydration.

Water makes up about 90 percent of blood volume, so when you’re not adequately hydrated, the amount of blood in your body actually decreases. Typically, your brain triggers a thirst sensation when it detects a decrease in your blood volume. That thirst sensation is your body asking you to start replenishing its water supply so that you don’t become dehydrated.

In the winter, your body keeps blood closer to your core—around your vital organs—to keep you warm. This process is known as vasoconstriction. Because your vital organs are sufficiently supplied with blood, your brain doesn’t detect the decrease in blood volume and doesn’t stimulate you to become thirsty.

This means that in the winter, your body’s thirst sensation can decrease by as much as 40 percent. That’s a lot!

Water Loss through Respiration

Ever wondered why you can see your breath in the winter? What you’re actually seeing is water loss! In the winter, water evaporates once it leaves your body due to the dryness of the air. The drier the air, the more water you lose.

Exercise intensity also increases respiratory water loss. The harder you exercise, the heavier you breathe. The heavier you breathe, the more vapor you expel. On a typical day lose about as much water in normal respiration as you do through urination.

Perspiration

Yes, you perspire during the winter. You just don’t recognize it the way you do in the summer. Summertime sweat stays on your skin due to hot air temperatures and high humidity levels. Since sweat and other liquids evaporate faster in the winter, you might not even notice you’re perspiring.

Winter Viruses

Winter is the season for colds and the flu to strike. Fevers, which are a common virus symptom, can cause you to sweat out fluids. That’s why hydrating is such an important part of treating a fever.

Viruses can also cause vomiting or diarrhea, which deplete your body of fluids. Runny noses and coughing (see water loss from respiration above!) can result in significant water loss as well.

Winter Dehydration vs Summer Dehydration

In the summer, it’s easy to recognize your risk of dehydration—maybe you’ve been active outside all day working up quite a sweat, or you’re stuck in a weather stretch of the three H’s: hazy, hot, and humid! You probably even carry a water bottle around to make sure you stay hydrated.

Winter dehydration is sneaky because you might not even realize you’re losing fluids, so you probably don’t thoughtfully hydrate as you do in the summer.

Whether it’s summer or winter, you should watch out for these common dehydration symptoms:

  • Urine that is dark in color
  • Decreased frequency in urination
  • Severe thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation

Some additional symptoms to watch out for in young children and infants include:

  • No wet diapers for three hours
  • Sunken soft spot on top of the skull
  • Sunken eyes or cheeks
  • No tears when crying
  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Listlessness or irritability

Winter Rehydration Methods

You need to stay on top of your hydration during the winter months. Try preventing dehydration with these seven tips:

  • Eat foods with high water content. Eating fruit such as apples, oranges, and pears is a fantastic way to increase your water intake while snacking on something delicious. Yum! Oatmeal, yogurt, and soups are other fluid-filled foods. Avoid processed and fried foods, since their high salt content drains moisture from your system.
  • Hydrate after exercising. The more intense your workout, the more water you need to put back into your body. That’s true whether it’s the dog days of summer or the dead of winter. Carry a portable water bottle with you during your workout and sip, don’t gulp, water as you exercise. Continue to drink water after your workout to replenish what you lost.
  • Dress in breathable layers. Remember how your mom always told you to dress in layers when you were a kid? Turns out mom was spot on (what else is new?) with advice to keep you warm and hydrated all winter. Avoid wearing non-breathable articles of clothing, like shells, as those will cause you to sweat. Instead, stay warm in multiple layers made from breathable fabric.
  • Use a humidifier. Most people spend a lot more time indoors during the winter. More time inside means more exposure to indoor heat, which can dry out your skin. Try using a humidifier at home—especially in your bedroom at night—to get some moisture back in the air and keep your skin, mouth, and lungs from drying out.
  • Observe medication intake. Some medications increase urination, like those for blood pressure. Over time, this excess fluid loss can lead to dehydration if you aren’t drinking more water to compensate.
  • Track your water intake. Accomplish this by setting a daily water drinking goal. When you get busy, it’s easy for you to forget to drink water. Solve that by carrying a water bottle with you. Maybe your gym water bottle can pull double duty! This will help you achieve your consumption goal and stay hydrated as you go about your day.
  • Consume warm liquids. As we all know, winter can get chilly, making throwing back cup after cup of cold water pretty undesirable. Opt for warm, water-based drinks instead. Think along the lines of a soothing caffeine-free herbal tea. You’ll avoid winter dehydration with the added bonus of an inner warming sensation with each cup—gripping that hot cup with both hands on a cold winter day is glorious! Not a tea fan? You could consume water at room temperature.

It’s important to quench your thirst to avoid becoming dehydrated. If you experience any dehydration symptoms during the winter months, replenish your system with foods high in water content and lots of water.

If you still feel dehydrated and think it might be due to a health issue, such as a cold or the flu, contact your local vybe urgent care for an evaluation.