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Summer Safety Series: Too much water?

by Lauren Pope, Staff Writer

Hello again from the Porch and Parish Summer Safety Team! I was on my own vacation this past week, and we stayed safe from riptides using the great advice I learned while researching our Beach Safety Story.  I actually saw my daughter heading out towards a suspicious section of waves and called her back just as she was starting to feel a bit of pull! 

The main thing I noticed on the beaches of Ft. Walton, though, was just how HOT it was. We went out early to try to avoid the worst of the harsh sun, but even then I found myself getting quickly dehydrated. We all know that it’s important to drink water (and not too many cocktails) while out in the summer heat, but I recently saw an article that cautioned about the dangers of too *much* water. 


“A South Carolina boy had to be hospitalized after developing a potentially deadly condition from guzzling six bottles of water in an hour  


While that does seem like an exorbitant amount of water, the article clarified that the boy had been running around and playing like crazy with a bunch of friends on the 4th of July and well…he was hot and thirsty.  Luckily, he’s since made a full recovery, but the idea of water intoxication seems all too plausible when we’re outside in the hot, hot Louisiana sun.  We spoke with an Emergency Medicine doctor and an ER nurse about water intoxication and other heat related dangers. The takeaway? Make sure you’re staying hydrated in the right way.

Let’s dive in!

Water Intoxication

First things first, Baton Rouge General’s Dr. Jim Crowell explained that he doesn’t see water intoxication too frequently at his ER. “It’s typically something that impacts endurance athletes like marathoners or soldiers doing training exercises. Their sodium levels get much too low during the race. When that happens you start getting water on the brain which is what causes the symptoms of confusion and altered mental states. Of course, it could happen just the same way with a child who comes inside and drinks all that water like the child from the story. The water is diluting the blood.” The symptoms, he said, are dramatic and look a lot like someone who is very intoxicated. That’s because the water is literally causing brain damage! 

Luckily, preventing this is pretty simple. Dr. Crowell recommends electrolyte powders that you can add to your water before going out into the sun. He likes the powders that you can pick up at sporting good stores because they don’t have the added sugar of something like Gatorade.  If that’s not an option, a sugar free sports drink is ok.  “With a lean towards healthy living, many have turned away from hydration solutions such as Powerade and Gatorade as they contain high (ish) amounts of sugar. So, people down high amounts of water” says ER Nurse Mychael Klajic. In addition to the powders recommended by Dr. Crowell, Nurse Klajic says products such as GU Gel can be helpful for athletes on the go. 

If you’re going to be out all day, both agree that it is helpful to remember to eat food since nutrition is also important for keeping your electrolytes balanced.  If you’re a serious athlete or someone who will be competing in any kind of endurance exercise you need to be more meticulous in your electrolyte calculations. Dr. Crowell managed to finish second in an Iron Man Endurance competition in Vietnam in part by carefully calculating how much electrolyte powder and water he needed to ingest. For most people though, it doesn’t need to be that complicated.

  • Make sure you have a plan to stay properly hydrated if you’ll be out all day. Stock up on electrolyte powder or solutions before heading out into the heat.
  • Monitor your urine output. Too much or too little is a red flag.
  • Don’t just drink water. It can be tempting to guzzle it when you’re feeling the summer burn, but remember that water without electrolytes can dilute your blood if you drink too much of it. 

The other populations at risk of water intoxication are the mentally ill, homeless, or kids who are partaking in some sort of hazing or TikTok challenge. It’s important for young people especially to realize that too much water is every bit as dangerous as too much alcohol. It’s not “just water” and the consequences can be deadly. 

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

The much more common problem that Dr. Crowell sees come through his ER though, are heat related conditions.  “These overheating conditions are a spectrum from heat cramps all the way up to heat stroke. You might find yourself feeling a little light headed or dizzy and know it’s time to come inside, but it can escalate all the way to having a core temperature of 104 or above and being completely delirious. That’s heat stroke and it’s a condition that is as dangerous as a heart attack.”  

Dr. Crowell says that if someone ever comes inside from being out doing lawn work or playing outside on a hot day and they seem confused, they need to be taken to the ER immediately. Getting the core temperature down is urgent, because their brains are being damaged every minute they spend at those high temperatures. 

Prevention here means slowly acclimating to the heat by spending short amounts of time outside each day before attempting any sort of long day under the summer sun, but it’s also important to know your limits and to always practice the good hydration habits he outlined above. 

Also pay attention to the times of day in the summer when it’s just not safe to be outside. If you’re planning recreation activities, plan them for early or late in the day. If you’re out in the sun and it’s getting too hot, make the hard decision to leave and go inside, just like Dr. Crowell did earlier this afternoon when he called it a day on the 12th hole. 

While youth sports coaches should be aware of heat dangers, it’s also important that students advocate for themselves when they just don’t feel right. Remind your children that taking time to cool off and rehydrate is far better than ending up in the ER.
“I recently told this to a friend whose daughter is a cheerleader. She had a long day of practice in the heat and was behind on her fluid replacement. She ended up in the ER with heat exhaustion,” explained Nurse Klajic. “I recommend keeping products like GU, which is shelf stable and can be thrown in a backpack on hand.”  

Finally, Dr. Crowell  reminds parents to make sure that they never leave children or pets in the car for any amount of time. “Young children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to heat related conditions, and hot cars can become deadly within minutes.”

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