One of the greatest dangers to people in survival situations, especially in the summer in warmer climates, is dehydration. While working to overcome a new hardship, it’s easy for someone to overexert and become overheated. Also, people can easily be exposed to contaminated water or improperly prepared or spoiled food — which could cause diarrhea or vomiting — in a survival situation.
Of course, the easiest way for a healthy person to avoid dehydration is to drink plenty of liquids before and during strenuous activities. But severe diarrhea can also cause dehydration, so you should be prepared to deal with this deadly condition.
The young and the elderly are especially susceptible to dehydration. The young are more susceptible because they don’t know how to properly hydrate themselves, and, when sick, often refuse food or drink. The elderly are susceptible because they don’t drink as much as younger people, have reduced kidney function, suffer incontinence, or simply have difficulty going to relieve themselves because of pain or infirmity.
Look for these signs if you suspect a person is dehydrated:
- Dry mouth or sticky saliva.
- Dry skin.
- Skin flushing.
- Dark colored urine.
- Fatigue or weakness.
- Head rushes.
A person showing these signs are in the early stages of dehydration and has lost about 2 percent of his total body fluids. This person should be kept in a cool area away from the sun, if possible. He should be given plenty of non-caffeinated fluids (preferably water or a sports drink). The fluids should be taken in small sips.
In more severe cases of dehydration a person may experience:
- Increased heart rate.
- Increased respiration.
- Decreased sweating.
- Decreased urination.
- Increased body temperature.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Muscle cramps.
- Tingling of the limbs.
A person experiencing dehydration this severe should receive IV fluids to quickly replenish the electrolytes that are lost, and every effort should be made to get the person still, quiet and cool. If an IV is not available, sports drinks or Pedialite should be given, again, taken in small sips. Sports drinks and Pedialite are better than water because they contain electrolytes. Electrolytes are important because their loss can interfere with the chemical reactions needed for healthy cell operation. If no sports drinks are available, slowly administer water and, once symptoms have subsided, give the patient a salty snack or light meal.
In the most serious cases of dehydration a person will lose about 10 percent of his fluids. Emergency help will be needed immediately. Symptoms of severe dehydration include:
- Muscle spasms.
- Racing pulse.
- Shriveled skin.
- Dim vision.
- Painful urination.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Chest and abdominal pain.
Again, an immediate IV and the best available medical care are needed in situations like this.
The Mayo Clinic has a recipe for an oral rehydration solution that it recommends in an emergency situation where a pre-formulated solution is unavailable.
Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 liter (about 1 quart) of safe drinking water. Be careful in your measurements because incorrect amounts can make the solution less effective or even harmful. If possible, have someone else check your measurements for accuracy.
If the victim is vomiting, the Mayo Clinic recommends giving small amounts of the solution at frequent intervals.
If you don’t have the equipment necessary to give IV fluids and the person is in shock, unconscious or severely dehydrated, there is still a way to administer fluids in a hurry. It can be done rectally.
However, this method will obviously not work if the cause of the problem is severe diarrhea. To administer rectal hydration, place the victim on his side with the buttocks raised on two pillows. A lubricated plastic tube with a blunt end (a large urinary catheter or naso gastric tube is ideal) should be passed through the anus into the rectum to a depth of about 9 inches. It should pass with minimal pressure and should not be forced so as to avoid perforating the bowel.
Tape the tube to the skin. A longer piece of tubing and a drip bag or funnel should be attached to the end and elevated. Slowly drip 200 mls. of fluid over a period of 15 to 20 minutes. The catheter should then be clamped. This can be repeated every four hours with another 200 mls. Up to 1000-1,200 mls per 24-hour time frame can be administered this way. If 200 mls is tolerated well, the volume can be increased slightly or the time between intervals can be reduced to three or three and a half hours.
If overflow occurs, the volume should be reduced. A rectum full of feces does not absorb water very well, so the amounts may need to be reduced, but given more frequently.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from my book, How to Survive the Collapse of Civilization. You can order the book here.–BL