The body naturally exudes fluids through sweat, saliva, breath, urine, feces, and by secreting various other fluids like pus and blood. When enough isn’t taken in to replace them, dehydration may occur. Although it can be mild and easily fixed by drinking water, sports drinks, or pedialyte-like beverages, more extreme cases may require hospitalization and intravenous fluids to reverse the effects before complications arise. It’s important to be wary during exercise, illness, or extremely hot weather, and to keep an eye out for the symptoms of dehydration.
Although there are many symptoms that can indicate dehydration, the best judge is generally the color of the urine. The darker it becomes the worse the case of dehydration. Additional easy to see or feel symptoms include dry skin, a dry or sticky mouth, fewer tears when crying, constipation, and less urine than normal. Additionally, this imbalance of fluids may cause a headache, increased thirst, and a dizzy or light-headed feeling.
While adults may become irritable, dehydrated children are often sleepy and less active. At this point, and with no serious underlying illness, some patients may find relief simply by drinking more water or sports drinks that contain electrolytes. Tending to any wounds that are causing bleeding or other fluid loss may help as well, but it is important to watch for any signs that the dehydration is returning or getting worse.
When dehydration symptoms progress to severe, thirst becomes extreme thirst, fewer tears become no tears, and dry skin becomes an inability to sweat. When pinched, normally hydrated skin will fall back into place immediately, while dehydrated skin holds a small peak and seems to stick together. Many hours may pass with no urination at all, and what does appear may be a dark, amber colored liquid. The eyes will seem sunken, and the skin appears to shrink on the body. In infants, the soft spot on the head will sink.
The amount of blood flowing through the body ultimately decreases, causing the blood pressure to drop. Oxygen can’t get through the body like normal, and the heartbeat becomes fast and pounding. Breathing increases, in an effort to replace that oxygen. Babies and young children become fussy instead of merely less active, and adults may feel cranky and confused. A fever may also develop. In extreme cases, the dehydrated person can become delirious, have fainting spells, or become unconscious.
When to Go to the Doctor
Although adults may handle the effects of dehydration better, small children and the elderly are more fragile. While increasing fluid intake may be sufficient to reverse the effects of mild dehydration, if there is frequent vomiting or diarrhea as well, it is generally better to see a doctor sooner rather than later. Such additional symptoms not only increase the rate of dehydration, but cause additional loss of electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals, which makes it more difficult to combat any illness or infection. Athletes must also take special care to remain hydrated. Young sports players may not be as acquainted with the importance of fluids, and should be educated and watched carefully.