Water, our source of life, keeps us healthy, hydrated and vital. Although dehydration is a common concern during the hot summer months, it can happen at any time of year — and it can sneak up on you in unexpected ways.
Dehydration typically occurs when a person hasn’t consumed enough water or has lost a lot of body fluid. We need adequate fluid in our bodies for all of our bodily functions, but we lose fluid every day through respiration, sweat, urine and stools.
In addition to insufficient fluid ingestion, common causes of dehydration include too much exercise, prolonged or high fever, excessive diarrhea or vomiting, protracted heat exposure, and significant injuries to the skin, such as burns.
How do you know if you’re dehydrated?
Some signs of dehydration are obvious, but others are more obscure. Symptoms can include thirst, a dry mouth, dizziness, confusion, weakness, sluggishness, fainting, decreased urine output, inability to sweat and heart palpitations. If the color of your urine is deeply yellow or amber, and it’s not due to taking a high dose of B-complex vitamins, you may be dehydrated.
Severe dehydration requires urgent medical attention. Be sure to see your physician if you or your loved one has had constant or increased vomiting for more than a day, diarrhea for more than two days, a significant decrease in urine output, or a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Go to an emergency room for dehydration associated with a fever greater than 103 degrees, no urine output for 12 hours, chest or abdominal pains, seizures, difficulty breathing or fainting.
How can you prevent dehydration?
The good news is that you can prevent most situations in which dehydration is a risk. This is especially the case if you plan on doing vigorous and prolonged exercise, know ahead of time that you’re going to be sweating a lot, or expect to be in a hot environment.
As a general rule, the number of ounces you want to drink each day should be the equivalent of at least half your weight in pounds. This means, for example, that if you weigh 120 pounds you should drink at least 60 ounces of water daily. But note that following this general rule may not give you adequate fluid intake if you experience any of the situations described above in which people commonly become dehydrated, including too much exercise or heat exposure, excessive fever, diarrhea, or vomiting or significant skin injuries such as burns. In these situations, you will most likely need to increase your fluid intake.
In addition, to further help prevent dehydration, you want to be sure that you’re consuming an adequate amount of electrolytes. These are minerals that are essential for proper hydration of your body’s tissues. Good sources of electrolytes include bananas, lemonade and electrolyte drinks.
If you suffer from a high fever or diarrhea, you can ingest more fluids by sucking on ice chips or an electrolyte drink that has been frozen into popsicles or ice cubes. This can be a great strategy for getting children to take in more fluids when they aren’t feeling well and don’t want to drink anything.