The telltale signs you’re not hitting your daily water quota.
Dehydration occurs when your body does not contain the amount of water it needs in order to function properly. While mild dehydration can be rectified by quenching your thirst, at its most severe, dehydration can be life threatening.
We speak to Dr Andrew Thornber, chief medical officer at Now Patient, about the symptoms of dehydration and the telltale signs you’re not hitting your daily water quota.
Causes of dehydration
It’s completely normal to lose water through your body each day, through sweat, breath, urine, faeces, saliva and tears.
However, if you don’t replace this water, by drinking or eating foods with a high water content, you will likely become dehydrated. Other risk factors of dehydration include:
- You have been vomiting or have diarrhoea.
- You have a high fever.
- You have a sore throat (meaning you may not want to drink or eat much).
- You have done vigorous exercise.
- You have heatstroke.
- You have drunk lots of alcohol.
- You are on diuretic medication (which makes you need to wee more frequently).
- You have diabetes.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration
If you’re thirsty, chances are you know to reach for a glass of water. But for small children and the elderly, it’s not always apparent. Fortunately there are a number of signs to look out for which indicate you ay need to hydrate.
Common signs of dehydration include dry skin, dizziness, increased thirst, a dry mouth, tiredness, lethargy and dark urine.
‘There are several signs of dehydration, but it can vary from person-to-person, depending on how severe the dehydration is,’ says Dr Thornber. ‘However, the most common signs include dry skin, dizziness, increased thirst, a dry mouth, tiredness and lethargy, lack of energy, very dark urine (or not peeing enough), a rapid heartbeat and – in the worst cases – fainting.’
Dehydration in babies and children
Young children and the elderly may not recognise when they are thirsty so it’s important to look out for the key signs.
‘Young babies, toddlers and the elderly are most prone to getting dehydrated,’ says Dr Thornber. If your baby or young child is dehydrated, you may notice these additional symptoms, as well as the symptoms listed above:
- Playing less and seeming subdued or irritable.
- No wet nappies for three hours or more.
- A sunken fontanel (the soft spot on top of your baby’s head).
- A lack of actual tears when they cry.
Treating dehydration in babies and young children
As soon as you notice your baby or young child may be dehydrated, offer them water to drink (babies under one year should be given the chance to breastfeed as often as they wish, or offered formula milk). Young children may refuse plain water, in which case you could try the following:
✔️ Offer them milk or very diluted squash.
✔️ Spoon-feed them small amounts of water – little and often is best.
✔️ Offer them slices of melon, strawberries or grapes (cut in half lengthways).
✔️ Offer them an ice lolly.
If your child has a vomiting or diarrhoea bug, it’s important that you do not stop them drinking. Encourage them to take regular small sips of water. You should also offer them a rehydration solution – speak to your pharmacist about which is the best choice for your child.
⚠️ If your child refuses all offers of drink or food, and you are in any way concerned about their level of dehydration, call 111 for advice. You may be advised to visit your local A&E department, where (in serious cases) your child may be rehydrated using an IV drip.
Dehydration in the elderly
Dehydration in older people can cause serious risks if it gets severe, including kidney stones, fainting and low blood pressure.
Mobility issues can increase an elderly person’s chance of suffering from dehydration: if they are unable to easily stand and move around independently, they will be far less likely to regularly get up to fetch themselves a glass of water.
Treating dehydration in the elderly
The best way for all of us to rehydrate and avoid becoming dehydrated in the first place is to drink plenty of water. ‘Coffee, tea, fruit juice, sweetened beverages, fruits and vegetables all contain water, so if someone you know does not like drinking plain water, try to encourage them to up their intake of these other drinks or foods containing water,’ says Dr Thornber.
The best way to rehydrate and avoid becoming dehydrated in the first place is to drink plenty of water.
‘Jellies, ice lollies and melons are all good alternatives, especially when encouraging an elderly person to increase their fluid intake,’ adds Dr Thornber. ‘Encourage them to keep a water jug or bottle close by, so they’re more inclined to drink more often.’
Make sure the water container isn’t too big though, as they may struggle to lift and pour it. Instead, it’s better to use a smaller jug that you can refill regularly for them. ‘You can also try using an app or set an alarm to remind them to drink at regular intervals, especially at mealtimes,’ advises Dr Thornber.
Treating dehydration during a sickness bug
If you have been unwell with a sickness or diarrhoea bug, you will likely have lost water, as well as other vital nutrients.
‘It can sometimes be hard to keep drinking and to keep fluids down, but try to sip small amounts of fluid on a regular basis, to keep hydrated and replenish what you have lost,’ advises Dr Thornber. ‘It would also be good to try to drink a rehydration solution (added to water), as these contain sugars and salts, which your body will have also lost.’