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Preventing heat injuries

  • Published
  • By Maj. Darryn Bryant
  • 19th Aerospace Medical Squadron aerospace and operational physiology flight commander
Third in a three-part series

Can someone drink too much water? The answer is "yes." 

Perhaps you've heard of "water intoxication" incidents with U.S. military recruits and athletes at summer training camps. The military has traditionally focused on the dangers associated with heat illness, which have killed a number of healthy young enlistees. However, pushing the need to drink water too far can also have deadly consequences. Unfortunately, the dangers of over-hydration are similar to those of dehydration. Over-hydration can flush out critical electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Look for sweating, dizziness, fainting, flushed skin and possible unconsciousness as symptoms of water intoxication. 

Here are two examples: 

- A 19-year-old Air Force recruit collapsed during a 5.8-mile walk with a body temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Doctors concluded he died of heat stroke and low blood sodium levels because of over-hydration. 

- A 20-year-old Army trainee drank about 12 quarts of water during a two-to-four-hour period while trying to produce a urine specimen for a drug test. She lost consciousness and died from swelling in her brain and lungs. 

To prevent over-hydration, limit water intake to one and a half quarts per hour and 12 quarts total per day. If you suspect over-hydration, call 911 immediately. 

Heat injuries are preventable. It's up to everyone to continue to check each other to ensure no one succumbs to a heat-related illness, especially when conducting military operations under extremely hot conditions. For more information regarding heat injuries, call the 19th Medical Group Aerospace and Operational Physiology Flight at 987-7389.