Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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I'm often asked about technologies that are amenable to research applied in outdoor or wilderness settings. A company called Cantimer has developed and made available one of these technologies.

Cantimer is a privately–held, development–stage company commercializing a patented, proprietary, sensor technology platform based on a convergence of micro electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology and advanced polymer science. According to the website, the Company’s first commercial product will be an innovative, hand–held device for non-invasive measurement and monitoring of human hydration status from the osmolality of saliva.

This past October (2008), there was a press release issued by the Company. To paraphrase:

"Cantimer, Inc. Delivers First Alpha Instruments for Real-Time, Non-Invasive, Incident-Scene Assessment of Dehydration in Firefighters

Devices to be used for field testing in structural fire environments and search and rescue operations.

Cantimer, Inc. announced that it has shipped ten alpha instruments for real-time, non-invasive assessment of human hydration to the U.S. Government's Technical Support Working Group (TSWG). The units will be used for incident-scene assessment of dehydration in firefighters. Dr. Christina Baxter, from TSWG, commented, 'The focus over the last several months has been on laboratory work that adds to the body of knowledge regarding salivary osmolality as a useful measure of human hydration or dehydration status. That work has gone very well. We are now looking forward to using these new devices for actual field testing in structural firefighting or search and rescue operations - with more of an emphasis on implementation, ergonomics and the user experience.'

Maintaining an optimal level of hydration is a major health concern for firefighters and other emergency scene first responders. Progressive acute dehydration associated with physical exertion in heat-stressed environments significantly increases the risks of temperature-related health problems, with resulting losses of productivity and, in some cases, death. It has been shown that fluid losses of as little as 2% of total body weight (3.5 pounds in a normally 175 pound individual) can lead to noticeable compromises in physical and cognitive performance.

Dehydration and resulting temperature-related health problems among firefighters are preventable through adequate on-scene hydration management. Cantimer's devices, incorporating the Company’s proprietary sensing technology, enable convenient, field-deployable, real-time measurement, and therefore management, of hydration status from an easily-obtained sample of saliva.

Although easy to treat if identified early, dehydration is a pervasive condition that contributes to a large number of preventable hospitalizations in the U.S. every year. Cantimer believes that the availability of a hand-held device that aims to make it as easy to determine a person’s state of hydration as it is to take their body temperature will have significant benefits, not only for the health and safety of firefighters and other first-responders, but for military personnel, athletes at all levels, the elderly, the very young and those suffering from a wide range of medical conditions."

The wilderness and outdoor medicine literature is replete with opinions and arguments about conditions predisposing to dehydration and the determination of hydration status. We presume dehydration in the field by clinical diagnosis (e.g., signs and symptoms), but do not generally deploy an actual quantifiable measurement to determine its presence. So, with the advent of the technology espoused by Cantimer, we may finally have a convenient tool with which to begin to diagnose, as opposed to predict, dehydration, during virtually any activity for which the physical environment will allow its use. This will hopefully also allow us to test different hydration/rehydration strategies, including various fluids, electrolyte concentrations, and so forth.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.