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Silent Factors - Exposure and Dehydration

By Brian Athern - August 1, 2000
While enjoying an outing with my mentor and editor Mike Yurk in June 1999, I relearned a valuable lesson. That lesson was the unforgiving toll the elements take on the human body. Now most people know about extreme cold and how it kills, but Chicago just a few years back saw heat and humidity as a killer also. I hope to present some food for thought for anglers and outdoors people to avoid the misery of exposure.

Frank, Mike, and I were enjoying some good largemouth bass fishing until about the last hour of our fishing day. I had developed a pounding headache, nausea, and felt a bit light on my feet. I sat in Mike's van as he and Frank loaded up, sipping water under advisement. It wasn't until a few hours later that I had realized what I was feeling.

Dehydration from exposure to the sun can be a stifling experience. The problem is most outdoors people don't realize what's happened until it has already overcome them. Just as I was taken back by it, my friend and editor Mike noticed it almost immediately though I denied it. As an athlete, I had been taught to examine my own body's urine for heavy discoloration or if you felt a burning sensation those were the warning signs of dehydration.

I had developed a pounding headache, nausea, and felt a bit light on my feet.
Of course I lived through that experience with a potent dose of water and a couple of Tylenol, but the lesson hit home with both Frank and myself.

Now exposure is something often related to frigid cold and wintering conditions, but think of exposure in sunny terms. Skin cancer may take years to develop, but prevention only takes moments to apply. The sun also wears on the body, starting chain reactions like dehydration, fatigue, exhaustion, and eventually heat stroke.

In 1986, six members of my pony league baseball team were rushed to the Carmi, Illinois Hospital with heat stroke symptoms, myself included. Side effects of prolonged sun exposure start with dehydration, fatigue, low blood pressure, and eventually the victim will lose consciousness and pass out. Being rushed to a hospital, packed in ice, and force fed large quantities of fluids is no picnic. The playing conditions of 114 degrees on the field and 109 degrees in the shade could have been fatal as they were to a fellow little leaguer in neighboring Edwardsville, Indiana days earlier.

One fact of exposure and hypothermia even in mild conditions is hard to dispute. The National Park Service will not allow outfitters to enter the wilderness with cotton over garments. Cotton sweatshirts and pants are replaced by the new polar fleeces because the materials do not absorb water. The garments repel moisture providing a barrier between the skin and body warmth and the elements. Outfitters have learned by fatal experience, damp cotton kills even in temperatures as moderately low 60's!

You've heard the horror stories, now here's some prevention tips. First, to avoid dehydration don't wait until you're thirsty to begin taking in fluids. Mike's military commander background drove home the point to both Frank and I with my case being considered very mild. The retired Major periodically instructed one of us to break out water and distribute one to each member of our "team".

Water storage can be obtained by using old bottled water or sports drink squirt bottles. Rinsing them out after every use with a mild soapy solution handles cleaning chores. If you don't like plain water, try a squirt of orange, lemon, or lime. If that won't do it, try sports drinks in assorted flavors staying away from beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol. Those ingredients speed up the dehydration process. Also, keep your beverage chilled but not frozen or "ice cold". The body actually absorbs chilled and cool beverages better than ice cold ones.

Side effects of prolonged sun exposure start with dehydration, fatigue, low blood pressure, and eventually the victim will lose consciousness and pass out.

Exposure in its warm, sunny, and hot forms can be conquered through a high SPF rated sunblock and a decent pair of polarized glasses. Note that the higher the SPF rating, the better the sun protection. Try waterproof sunblocks and be sure to read the label for when to reapply to your skin. Don't forget those crucial spots: the nose, ears back and front, the neck, and your face! Also, don't forget to periodically remove your glasses to "fill-in" your lines so you don't develop the Athern raccoon look.

Lastly, don't forget your noggin. Cover that melon with some type of hat and while fishing vanity is for the birds. A baseball type cap works and one with a mesh back allowing your head to "vent" is even better. Although both my brother and me have hat collections to be rivaled, I've gone militarily basic. A good old fashion LRRP/Ranger-Special Forces type "boonie cap" in tiger stripe camo is my protection. They can be had at any military surplus shop worth its weight in camouflage for about $10 bucks. If you're like my stylish but functional partner Frank, it's a $30 Australian "outback" hat made out of Kangaroo leather. Personally, the boonie cap appeals to the Bohemian in me!

Now that you're aware of the silent factors that work on the body in the outdoors, you'll come prepared. A little planning can go along way to prevent suffering the ill effects of the elements in the great outdoors.

Good Fishing!

Author Brian Athern
Brian Athern
Brian J. Athern is a Field Editor with MidWest Outdoors Magazine, Fishing Facts Magazine and has also worked with the former If you have any questions or comments regarding this article you can email Brian at [email protected]
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