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Staying hydrated is key to staying healthy during the summer months. With lack of drinking water, a person can become dehydrated and develop hyponatremia, a deficiency of sodium in the blood. People can become a heat casualty and suffer from heat cramps, exhaustion and stroke. Studies recommend drinking at least a half-gallon of water per day.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Monica C. Erickson

Survive summer in sweltering sun

17 Jul 2009 | Lance Cpl. Monica C. Erickson

The car sputters and coughs its last breath. First you’re angry— you were on your way to Las Vegas – but now you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly it hits and you realize you are in the middle of a desert, in the middle of the day during one of the summer months. Are you prepared?

The Combat Center has been urging people to stay hydrated, especially during the summer months, but what else should people take into account to keep them safe if an emergency arises?

Angel Rios, an occupational safety and health specialist for the Combat Center’s Safety Office, says the number one thing a person should do if stranded in the desert is to stay put.

“Never walk or hike during the daytime,” said Rios, a Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, native. “Sometimes looks one mile away, but it is actually six.”

If someone needs to leave the road for some reason they should create signals, make arrows out of rocks or use large branches to point rescuers in the direction they traveled. If stranded in the desert, people should travel during the morning hours, or during the late afternoons or early evenings to preserve energy.

Bob Piirainen, the traffic safety program manager for the Safety Office, agreed with Rios and said people should never walk at night when in the desert because it is easy to get lost.

According to http://, the Morongo Basin Search and Rescue Team advises people to pack at least one gallon of water per person in the vehicle. Piirainen, a Lake Charles, La., native, also said people should pack dry food and plastic bags to catch condensation from leaves if the situation becomes dire.

“Don’t conserve your water supply,” Piirainen said. “Drink what you need when you need it.”

Before traveling, car owners should check their vehicles for any problems and ensure their gas tank is full. Cars should also be packed with an emergency kit, spare tire and tools necessary to do a hasty fix of common car problems. People should also have a supply of sunscreen no less than sun protection factor 30 through 45.

Travelers should ensure they have a wide-brimmed hat to keep their face shaded from the sun and they should wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Knowing and understanding the signs of a heat injury and how to prevent a heat casualty is also necessary when dealing with the desert.

Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the three main medical problems caused by dehydration and sun exposure. People do not have to be stranded in the middle of nowhere to become a heat casualty.

Heat cramps cause heavy sweating and painful spasms in the leg or abdomen muscles. People suffering from heat cramps should find shade and drink cool water.

Heat exhaustion is more severe and causes nausea, dizziness, weakness, headache, pale and moist skin, heavy perspiration, normal or low body temperature, weak pulse, dilated pupils, disorientation and fainting spells.

Someone suffering from heat exhaustion should be provided water immediately and kept in the shade. Their legs should be elevated above their heart and medical attention is required immediately so their symptoms do not turn into heat stroke.

Heat stroke is similar to exhaustion where a person will experience headaches, dizziness and confusion, but unlike exhaustion, they will have a rapid pulse with hot and dry skin along with a body temperature of 106 degrees or higher. Heat stroke can cause vascular collapse, coma and death.

If someone is suffering from heat stroke, they need to be moved to a shaded area immediately soaked with cool water and be fanned to help lower their body temperature. Their feet should be elevated. Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency and medical attention should be sought immediately.

For more information regarding desert survival and precautions to take during the summer months, contact Piirainen at 830-6154.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms