Dehydration symptoms, causes and treatment options

Dehydration symptoms, causes and treatment options

Every day, an average adult loses more than 10 cups of water simply by sweating, breathing and eliminating waste. During the hot summer months, this amount can easily increase. If a person does not compensate by replenishing their water supply, a potentially life-threatening condition can occur – dehydration.

What is dehydration?

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. When too much water is lost from the body, its organs, cells, and tissues fail to function as they should, which can lead to dangerous complications. Without enough water, the body literally dries out.

Who is at risk?

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. This means that even minor illnesses, such as infections affecting the lungs or bladder, can result in dehydration in older adults.

Dehydration also can occur in any age group if you don’t drink enough water during hot weather — especially if you are exercising vigorously.

Signs and symptoms:

Thirst isn’t always a reliable early indicator of the body’s need for water. Many people, particularly older adults, don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. That’s why it’s important to increase water intake during hot weather or when you’re ill.

The signs and symptoms of dehydration also may differ by age:

Infants or young children:

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • No tears when crying
  • No wet diapers for three hours
  • Sunken eyes, cheeks
  • Sunken soft spot on top of skull
  • Listlessness or irritability


  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-coloured urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion


It is recommended that women drink 11.5 cups water per day and men 15.5. Individuals on the go, athletes, and people exposed to high temperatures should increase their water intake to avoid dehydration.

Treatments for dehydration include rehydrating methods, electrolyte replacement, and treating diarrhea or vomiting, if needed.

Rehydration by drinking may not be possible for all people, like those who have severe diarrhea or vomiting. In this case, fluids can be given intravenously. For those able to drink, drinking water along with an electrolyte-containing rehydration drink, such as a low-sugar sports or electrolyte drink, may be recommended.

If an electrolyte drink isn’t available, you can make your own rehydration solution using:

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 liter water

Be absolutely certain that you’re using an accurate measurement. Using too much salt or sugar can be dangerous.


Prevention is really the most important treatment for dehydration. Consuming plenty of fluids and foods that have high water content (such as fruits and vegetables) should be enough for most people to prevent dehydration.

People should be cautious about doing activities during extreme heat or the hottest part of the day, and anyone who is exercising should make replenishing fluids a priority.

Since the elderly and very young are most at risk of being dehydrated, special attention should be given to them to make sure they are receiving enough fluids.

Dehydration can be mild or severe. Many people don’t realise just how dangerous it can be if left untreated. Hydrating on a consistent and regular basis plays a key role in overall health and wellness.


Disclaimer: All content on the The Local Choice Pharmacy is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health advice.