Why staying hydrated is important in the winter too

Why staying hydrated is important in the winter too

The cooler weather has already arrived. Our woolly hats, gloves and jumpers are close by, ready to keep us warm. In addition to wrapping up for the cold weather, we need to ensure we stay adequately hydrated during the winter – particularly if we catch the flu (1).

Dehydration may not seem likely during the winter months; we’re not as hot or sweating as much as in the warmer months. However, as we get older, changes in our bodies put us more at risk of dehydration (2) – whatever the weather.

Dehydration risk increases with age

With age, we are prone to losing our sense of thirst (2), more especially if we have Alzheimer’s or cardiovascular problems (2). Added to that, we tend to have less muscle and proportionally more body fat than those younger than us, and that reduces the total amount of water in our bodies (2).

To complicate matters further, our kidneys may not work as well, which can sometimes lead to us losing too much water (2). Added to that, some of the medicines we depend on may also affect how our kidneys function (2). Diuretics and laxatives, for instance, may increase our risk of dehydration (3). And the incontinence we may suffer may make us reluctant to drink to avoid the need to go to the toilet, particularly at night (3) – again putting us at risk of dehydration.

We’re also more at risk of dehydration if our physical or mental abilities are reduced. Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to poor hydration (4) while swallowing difficulties, dementia, frailty and infections can affect our ability to drink (2) – all of which are more common as we age (2). Certain medicines, such as cardiac glycosides and amphetamines, may also lead to us drink less (5).

Becoming dehydrated with the flu

While causes of dehydration, in general, are well known, they are not always easy to define as we age. Elderly patients with severe dehydration often have underlying infections (5). Let’s take a look at why viral infections, such as the flu, can cause you to become dehydrated.

Unlike a cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and often include fever (6). Fever helps your body fight infections by stimulating the body’s natural defences (7). By increasing the body’s temperature, a fever makes it harder for the bacteria and viruses that cause infections to survive (7). You are typically considered feverish if you have a temperature above 38°C (6).

However, whenever we have a fever, we are at a greater risk of dehydration (7).

Why? Because a fever can cause you to sweat excessively (8). It doesn't necessarily need to be hot for you to lose a significant amount of fluid from sweating (8).

In fact, dehydration can be a sign that our flu is getting worse (9).

Signs of dehydration

Signs you’re dehydrated include a dry mouth, lips or tongue (10). If you’re dehydrated, you may also find your eyes become sunken and your skin dry and inelastic (3).

Dehydration can also lower your blood pressure, leading to weakness, dizziness and a greater risk of falls (10). It may also leave you feeling drowsy, confused or disorientated (10). Even mild dehydration can affect how you perform, increase tiredness and lead to headaches (10). It can impact your memory, attention, concentration and reaction time (2).

Seek medical advice if you (7)(4):

  • have a severe thirst, or your urine output reduces
  • are passing urine that is darker than normal
  • feel light-headed, weak, unusually tired or confused
  • have a rapid heartbeat
  • get any new, severe muscle cramps.

Stay hydrated, stay well

Your body is nearly two-thirds water, and so it is really important that you consume enough fluid to stay hydrated and healthy – especially if you have the flu (1). In these situations, it's important to drink regularly to replace lost fluids (1).

Try to add liquids throughout the day by taking sips from a glass of water, milk or juice between bites during meals (12). Drink a full glass of water if you need to take a pill and don’t stop drinking liquids if you have a urinary control problem (3).

Drinking enough water improves how we feel, how well we sleep and how steady we are on our feet (10).

Keep yourself well. Stay hydrated – especially if you have the flu.


Sources
(1) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/flu/
(2) https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/567678
(3) https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/urinary-incontinence-older-adults
(4) http://www.diabetes.co.uk/dehydration-and-diabetes.html
(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2625510/pdf/jnma00925-0023.pdf
(6) http://www.flu65plus.com/stories/4-key-symptoms
(7) https://www.nhsinform.scot/self-help-guides/self-help-guide-fever-in-adults
(8) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dehydration/causes/
(9) http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/153380/flu_case_management.pdf
(10) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dehydration/symptoms/
(11) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dehydration/
(12) https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/water-drinks.aspx

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