Dehydration is caused by not drinking enough fluid or by losing more liquid than you take in. Fluid can be lost through sweat, tears, vomiting, urine or diarrhea, and the severity of dehydration can depend on a number of factors, such as climate, level of physical activity and diet.
Hydration may refer to drinking in general, including Oral rehydration therapy, hydration as a health treatment, Management of dehydration, and medical hydration
Anyone may become dehydrated, but the condition is particularly dangerous for young children and older adults.
The signs and symptoms of dehydration may differ by age.
Infant or young child
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Sunken soft spot on top of the skull
- Listlessness or irritability
- No tears when crying
- No wet diapers for three hours
- Sunken eyes, cheeks
- Extreme thirst
- Less frequent urination
- Dark-colored urine
Surprising Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
- Bad Breath: Saliva has antibacterial properties, but dehydration can prevent your body from making enough saliva, which can lead to bacterial overgrowth in the mouth. One of the side effects of that is bad breath.
- Dry Skin: As you go through various stages of dehydration, you get very dry skin, and your skin may appear flushed as well. When pinched, the skin of a dehydrated person may take some time to return to its normal, flat form.
- Muscle Cramps: Dehydration is worth considering if you get cramps while exercising, particularly in hot weather. That’s from a pure heat effect on the muscles. Changes in the electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, can lead to muscle cramping as well. Dehydration carries the same risks, regardless of the outside temperature.
- Fever and Chills: If your body is severely dehydrated you may experience fever and chills, which can worsen dehydration. The higher the fever, the more dehydrated you may become.
- Food Cravings: When you’re dehydrated, it can be difficult for organs like the liver, which uses water, to release glycogen and other components of your energy stores, so you can actually get cravings for food. It’s also not surprising for the body to confuse the feeling of thirst with hunger, meaning that you may feel hungry when all you really need is water.
- Headaches: Mild dehydration can cause a dehydration headache and can even trigger a migraine headache. Drinking a full glass of water and continuing to sip more fluids during the day is an easy way to ease your pain if, in fact, dehydration is contributing to your headache.
When to Seek Medical Care
Call a primary care doctor if you or a person close to you experience any of the following:
- Increased or constant vomiting for more than a day
- Fever over 101 F (38.3 C), but less than 103 F (39.4)
- Diarrhea for more than 2 days
- Weight loss
- Decreased urine production
There may need to visit the hospital’s emergency department if these situations occur:
- Fever higher than 103 F (39.4)
- Chest or abdominal pain
- A headache
- Difficulty breathing
- No urine in the last 12 hours
Tips for Staying Hydrated
The Institute of Medicine recommends that most women get about 2.7 liters of water daily, and most men should get about 3.7 liters a day.
Here are some tips for receiving all the fluids you need and avoiding dehydration:
- Sip small amounts of water. Sip through a straw for someone who has had jaw surgery or mouth sores.
- Drink carbohydrate/electrolyte-containing drinks.
- Suck on popsicles made from juices and sports drinks.
- Suck on ice chips.
If there has been extreme heat or heat exposure, you can cool off in the following ways:
- Remove any excess clothing and loosen other clothing
- Air-conditioned areas are best for helping return the affected individual’s body temperature to normal and break the heat cycle.
- Increase cooling by evaporation by placing the person near fans or in the shade.
- Place a wet towel around yourself or the person.
- If available, use a spray bottle or misters to spray luke-warm water on exposed skin surfaces to get relief from cooling by evaporation.
Avoid exposing skin to excessive cold, which can cause the blood vessels in the skin to constrict and will decrease, rather than increase heat loss. Exposure to excessive cold can also cause shivering, which will increase body temperature, and may cause dehydration symptoms to worsen.