Why is it so dangerous?
Since it’s summer, you’re probably taking advantage of the weather and spending some time outside. While doing this, it’s vital to prevent yourself from becoming dehydrated. Why is this so important? What happens to your body when you’re dehydrated? What signs should you be looking for? How can you prevent it?
Dehydration is when your body doesn’t have enough fluid because you used it or lost more than you took in. The most common reason for dehydration is not drinking enough typically because you’re busy or sick. For healthy adults, this can involve not drinking enough water if you’re exercising or being out in hot or cold weather. Other reasons for dehydration can include vomiting/diarrhea, fever, excessive sweating or increased urination. Children are particularly susceptible to dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea because they have a higher surface area to volume area ratio. Elderly individuals are also at a higher risk because they have lower volume of water in their bodies. So, if they have even a minor illness, they can quickly end up dehydrated.
It’s important to be aware of the fact that thirst isn’t a reliable indicator of your need for water because most people don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. The symptoms of dehydration in adults are extreme thirst, infrequent urination, dark-colored urine, fatigue, dizziness and confusion. Signs of dehydration in children can include dry mouth/tongue, no tears when they cry, no wet diaper for three hours or more, sunken eyes/cheeks, soft spot on top of their skull is visible and they’re easily irritated or lethargic.
When your body doesn’t have enough water to function normally, it can cause a significant amount of problems. If your dehydrated for long periods of time, you can end up with urinary tract infection, kidney stones and kidney failure. If you don’t have enough water, your electrolytes will be out of balance and this can result in seizures. If dehydration occurs when your outside in hot weather, you could end with heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. The most serious complication of dehydration is low blood volume and this results in a drop of your blood pressure that reduces the amount of oxygen the cells in your body is getting. This sends your body into shock, which is a life-threatening condition.
The only way to treat dehydration is to replace the fluids and electrolytes that are missing. The way in which this is done depends on the age of the person, the cause and the severity of dehydration. For most healthy adults with mild to moderate dehydration, the best treatment is to drink more water or other liquids. If you work or exercise outside when it’s hot, water or sports drinks that have electrolytes in them are helpful. For young children, use over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions because these contain water and electrolytes in specific proportions. The key is to start replacing fluids as soon as possible. Give a teaspoon of the solution every few minutes and gradually increase the amount as your child tolerates. For older children, you can give them sports drinks that are diluted with water (usually half sports drink and half water works well). Any person who is severely dehydrated will need to go to the hospital immediately and given fluids and electrolytes through an intravenous (IV) catheter.
Dehydration can easily be prevented by following a few simple steps. The basic rule is to drink plenty of fluids each day. This means at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. Also, eating foods that are high in water content, like fruits and vegetables, can help. If you are exercising, the key is to start hydrating before, replenish during and continuing hydrating after your activity. If you’re going to be outside in either hot or cold weather, you’ll need to drink more water. When it’s hot, you need to replace what your body is losing through sweat. When it’s cold, the air is drier and this can make you more susceptible to dehydration. If you or your child has vomiting and diarrhea, start rehydrating as soon as possible following the steps listed under the Treatment section.
Dehydration is a serious medical condition. By knowing what to look for, how to prevent it and what to do to treat it, you’ll be prepared to deal with it. If you have questions or concerns about dehydration, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit MedlinePlus’ dehydration page at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000982.htm