Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don’t replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated. Anyone may become dehydrated, but the condition is especially dangerous for young children and older adults.
The most common cause of dehydration in young children is severe diarrhea and vomiting. Older adults naturally have a lower volume of water in their bodies, and may have conditions or take medications that increase the risk of dehydration
Water makes up over two-thirds of the healthy human body. It lubricates the joints and eyes, aids digestion, flushes out waste and toxins, and keeps the skin healthy.
Some of the early warning signs of dehydration include:
- feeling thirsty and lightheaded
- a dry mouth
- having dark colored, strong-smelling urine
- passing urine less often than usual
A baby may be dehydrated if they:
- have a sunken soft spot (fontanelle) on their head
- have few or no tears when they cry
- have fewer wet nappies
- are drowsy
The body is affected even when you lose a small amount of fluid.
If you’re dehydrated, drink plenty of fluids such as water, diluted squash or fruit juice. These are much more effective than large amounts of tea or coffee. Fizzy drinks may contain more sugar than you need and may be harder to take in large amounts.
If you’re finding it difficult to keep water down because you’re vomiting, try drinking small amounts more frequently.
Infants and small children who are dehydrated shouldn’t be given large amounts of water alone as the main replacement fluid. This is because it can dilute the already low level of minerals in their body too much and lead to other problems.
Instead, they should be given diluted squash or a rehydration solution (available from pharmacies). You might find a teaspoon or syringe can be helpful for getting fluid into a young child.
If left untreated, severe dehydration can be serious and cause fits (seizures), brain damage and death. Prolonged or repeated bouts of dehydration can cause urinary tract infections, kidney stones and even kidney failure.
To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids and eat foods high in water such as fruits and vegetables. Letting thirst be your guide is an adequate daily guideline for most healthy people.