Drinking fluids is essential for your body to function correctly. Let’s take a look at what dehydration entails – symptoms, treatment and most importantly prevention.
Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than what it takes in and thus the body does not have sufficient fluids to carry out normal bodily functions. If these fluids are not replaced, you will get dehydrated.
There are various symptoms for dehydration which also differ with age. Symptoms for younger children include:
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No tears when crying
- Sunken eyes and cheeks
- No wet nappies for three hours
The symptoms for adults include the following:
- Extreme thirst
- Dark urine colour
- Less frequent urination
It is very important that you see a doctor if you have one of the following symptoms for more than 24 hours:
- Disorientated or sleepier than usual
- Cannot keep fluids down
- Black or bloody stools
There are many reasons for dehydration; it could be that you do not drink enough fluid during hot weather, you are sick, too busy or that you do not have access to enough safe drinking water during certain activities such as hiking or camping.
There are a few other symptoms involved in dehydration that you should be aware of. Firstly, severe and acute diarrhoea is sudden in onset and is persistent, which means that you are losing a large amount of water and electrolytes over a very short space of time. If this is paired with vomiting, it is even worse as you will lose an even larger amount of fluids and minerals.
You might also experience a feverand the higher the fever is, the more dehydrated you may become. The situation will get worse if you have a fever together with diarrhoea and vomiting.
When you sweat, you lose water thus you need to drink enough water and fluids to replace what you lose during exercise and hot weather. It is during hot and humid conditions that we will sweat more and excessive sweating can cause dehydration if that water is not replaced.
Certain medications and medical conditionscan cause you to urinate more frequently which can lead to dehydration. These conditions include undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabetes and medications may include those used for blood pressure and diuretics.
Even though anyone can become dehydrated, certain people are at a higher risk than others.
- Dehydration is specifically dangerous for children as they lose a large percentage of their fluids through fever. Children are not always able to tell you when they are thirsty and are not always able to get themselves a drink.
- Older adultsare also at a higher risk for dehydration. As you get older, your fluid reserve gets smaller and your ability to conserve water is reduced. These problems as mentioned above are due to use of chronic medications and can be linked to conditions such as diabetes and dementia.
Dehydration can lead to serious complications such as:
- Heat injury– this occurs when you are exercising vigorously and sweating heavily, then you may end up with a heat injury which ranges from mild heat cramps, heat exhaustion or more dangerous heatstroke.
- Urinary and kidney problems– Repeated incidents of dehydration can cause frequent urinary tract infections, kidney stones or kidney failure.
- Seizures – Electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, help to carry electrical signals from one cell to another. If these are not balanced correctly, the signals can become mixed up and cause involuntary muscle contractions or loss of consciousness.
- Low blood volume shock– this is the most serious and life threatening complications of dehydration. This occurs when low blood volume causes a drop in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in the body.
It is important to prevent dehydration so please remember the following tips:
- Make sure that you drink enough fluids and eat enough foods that are high in water such as fruits and vegetables.
- If you know that you are going to be doing strenuous sport or activities, it is important to start drinking enough fluids the day before. You should also drink enough fluids during the activity at regular intervals and after you have finished.
- During hot weather, drink extra fluids to help lower your body temperature and replace what you lose through sweating.
- During cold weather, you may need extra water to prevent moisture loss from dry air, especially at high altitudes.
- Most adults become dehydrated when they are not feeling well or when they have illnesses such as influenza or bronchitis, thus it is important to drink enough fluids during these times.
The treatment for dehydration is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. The treatment will also depend on age and the severity of the situation.
- Treatment for infants and children usually includes an over-the-counter oral rehydration solution which replenishes water and electrolytes.
- Adults with mild or moderate dehydration should drink water and other liquids to help rehydrate.
- Adults and children with severe dehydration should see a doctor or go to the nearest hospital where salts and fluids will be given to them through a drip which helps for a speedy recovery.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult your doctor for the necessary treatment.
Please remember to drink enough fluids whether it is summer or winter as dehydration can occur at any time of the year. If you keep yourself well hydrated at all times, but especially while exercising and when you are sick, you will ensure that your body functions correctly and you stay healthy!