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How to Defeat Dehydration

The Forgotten Risk to Flight Safety

By Trey McClure
Source: FAA Safety Briefing, July/August 2017

With the summer months now upon us, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of outdoor activities — whether it’s going to local fly-ins, getting some tee time in, or simply enjoying a little back porch sitting with a glass of sweet tea. As we increase our physical activities and the temperature starts to rise, it’s important to be reminded of the effects of dehydration, especially if flying is part of your plan for summer fun.

Dehydration is commonly associated with an increase in outside air temperature, but other factors — such as operating in a low humidity environment, and consuming hydration-zapping liquids such as alcohol, coffee, and soda, among others can contribute greatly to dehydration. Even performing common, everyday tasks at the airport such as moving an aircraft out of the hangar, going through the typical fueling process, or preflighting on a hot ramp can quickly starve the body of precious liquid resources.

The body is made up of 70-percent water, and the brain is the first organ that senses a need to replace lost fluids. When you are dehydrated, you will start to experience symptoms like headaches, lightheadedness, and fatigue. Since water is vital for blood and oxygen enrichment of the cells, symptoms can further progress to poor decision-making, dizziness, muscle fatigue, and pain in joints and muscles as a condition called hypoxia sets in. The bottom line is that dehydration can significantly decrease physical and cognitive performance, and that’s the last thing you want to experience mid-flight.

The key to preventing dehydration is to stay hydrated, and the key to staying hydrated is to plan ahead. Once you experience the sensation of thirst, you are more than likely already dehydrated. Depending on the environment, regaining hydration by simply drinking water can be difficult in a timely manner, since your body is continuously losing fluids.

Drinking plenty of water daily helps our body function properly, but just how much water do we need? That depends on the individual, but it’s recommended we drink at least five, 8-ounce glasses of cool water a day. As our physical activity level increases, so does our need to intake more water. To maintain the optimum level of hydration, increase your water intake to match.

If plain water is “hard to swallow,” consider sports drinks or other flavoring to make plain water more palatable. Be cautious to limit your intake of sugary and caffeinated drinks, as these are diuretics and can work against your hydration plan.

Quick tip: add a bottle of water or a small sports drink to your flight bag. It’s always a good idea to carry a bottle of water along on your flight to help maintain hydration. That handy bottle of water can serve as a helpful reminder to drink up, and will be a measure of how much water you have already consumed. There are also apps available for your phone or tablet that can help track water intake, and you can set reminders to let you know when it’s time to drink up.

Another tip: plan your preflight or fueling activities during cooler times of the day, if you can, to avoid or minimize sun exposure, as our bodies can more easily maintain a sufficient hydration level in cooler temperatures. In addition, you can add a baseball cap, and lightweight, light colored clothing to your flight bag.

Last, but not least, be mindful of personal situations, such as a recent illness. Fluid loss can be common during a period of illness, leading to dehydration even without exposure to the outside elements.

In light of this review, as I jet off to the horizon this summer, I will plan to enjoy a little more time in the shade and factor in some glasses of cool water with my sweet tea!

Learn More

Dehydration and the Pilot, FAA Airmen Education Programs -

“Defeating Dehydration,” FAA Safety Briefing, Jul/Aug 2010 -

Trey McClure is a General Aviation Operations Frontline Manager in the Jackson, Mississippi Flight Standards District Office.


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