With summer almost upon us, I wanted to talk about the importance of staying hydrated and staying safe in the sun for people with cystic fibrosis.
Because people with CF do not reabsorb salt well from the sweat ducts, they can get hyponatremia, a low sodium level in the blood. People with CF who exercise -- particularly in the summer heat -- should take sodium tablets or other forms of salt supplements to prevent hyponatremia, which can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle weakness, and cramping. Ask your care team for other ideas.
People with CF also are at risk for dehydration and salt depletion when they become ill because it is hard for us to keep up with the fluids our bodies need, putting us at risk for a number of problems such as bowel obstruction and dehydrated secretions that are thicker and harder to shift when carrying out your physio (that's what we call airway clearance in the U.K.).
I recently suffered from a bowel obstruction known as distal intestinal obstruction syndrome (DIOS). Personally, I was also unlucky enough to experience this at birth (meconium ileus). DIOS causes cramps and constipation. Believe me, you want to avoid this as the pain is unbearable!
To avoid these problems, take care of yourself. Here are my top five tips to help you stay hydrated, safe, and healthy this summer:
- But I'm not thirsty …
For people with CF, normal thirst sensation doesn't occur as quickly or at all, so you may not realize you are dehydrated. This is especially dangerous during the summer months. Drink extra fluids as necessary.
- Take it with a grain of salt.
Apart from drinking lots in the heat, your body salt needs replenishing, so enjoy some salty snacks such as pickles, olives, nuts, cheese, chips, crackers, and pretzels. Pretzels are the clear winner for me. They're low in fat and regardless of my struggle to gain weight, I try to keep a balanced diet. Salty snacks really help with your digestion too.
People with CF tend to sweat a lot, so add a pinch of salt to your dinner and take your salt tablets; this will help you avoid cramps, especially during exercise. Don't forget your enzymes so that you reap the benefits of your snack.
- Stay in tip-top shape.
After exercise, treat yourself to some chocolate milk. Chocolate milk is made up of almost 85 percent water and has proteins to help with muscle repair and simple sugars to help replenish your energy store. If you have cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD), be sure to check your blood sugar before and after exercise, and take enough insulin to cover the carbohydrates in the drink as prescribed by your doctor or dietitian.
- Slather on the white stuff.
Nope, I don't mean milk. I mean sun cream, especially if you are taking medications that cause photosensitivity, such as certain antibiotics. Check and reapply your sun cream regularly.
- Breathe easy.
Make sure you are equipped with your inhalers and nebulizers so that you can keep the mucus loose and easier to shift in the heat. Don't forget about anti-inflammatories. It's a good idea to have these handy, as allergies can play havoc with your chest.