Staying hydrated is one of the most important aspects of taking care of your body.
Without enough water, your health would quickly decline.
You know what it’s like to feel thirsty, but how do you know when you’re seriously dehydrated?
We’ll cover ten ways to help prevent dehydration and discuss the signs and symptoms of dehydration to watch out for.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration is a condition where your body loses too many fluids. There are several different causes of dehydration, including persistent vomiting or diarrhea, not drinking enough fluids while exercising, severe burns, and many other types of health conditions.
Dehydration is classified into three main levels of severity; mild, moderate, and severe. Mild dehydration is when you’ve lost 5% of your body weight in fluids. Moderate dehydration occurs when you’ve lost 5-9% of your body weight in fluids, while severe dehydration happens once you’ve lost 10% or more of your body weight in fluids. Severe dehydration can be life-threatening.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration
While some of the more obvious signs of dehydration such as severe thirst are well-known, there are many other possible symptoms of dehydration, including:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Not urinating very often or at all
- Dark yellow urine
- Dry, cool skin
- Muscle cramps
- Very dry skin
- Feeling dizzy
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Sunken eyes
- Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion, or irritability
Symptoms of dehydration in babies and young children can include:
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No tears when crying
- Dry diapers for three hours
- Sunken eyes, cheeks, soft spot on the top of the skull
- Sleepiness, lack of energy, or irritability
Complications of dehydration
Dehydration can quickly cause health problems and worsen existing health issues. Most of your body is made up of water, so losing even a small percentage of your water weight is significant.
If you have mild dehydration, you’ll likely recover without any issue. The more dehydrated you become, the more damaging it can be to your body’s organs.
Some of the potential consequences of dehydration include:
- Increased risk of urinary tract infection
- Kidney failure
- Brain swelling
- Death (severe dehydration)
10 ways to prevent dehydration
1. Pay attention to the symptoms of dehydration.
You can treat and prevent dehydration quicker by identifying the symptoms of dehydration. Be on the lookout for signs like flushed skin, a headache, fatigue, and vomiting, especially if you’ve been exercising or are spending a lot of time in hot weather.
If you have mild dehydration, you can usually treat it at home with fluids. Once dehydration becomes more severe you might need to get IV fluids to correct the dehydration.
2. Don’t wait for the feeling of thirst to drink water.
You might have heard that by the time you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated, which is accurate. Don’t wait to feel thirsty before you drink water, because a feeling of thirst is already a sign of mild dehydration.
If you wait to drink fluids in the evening, you’ll likely be up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Instead, have a goal to drink a specific size water bottle by a certain time (like lunchtime) to make sure it doesn’t fall to the end of the day.
3. Drink extra fluid during physical exertion.
One of the major ways you lose body fluids is through sweating. Sweating helps keep you cool but it also causes water loss. Drink water or a sports drink to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes during exercise.
If you’re exercising in humid weather you can lose more sweat as your body tries to cool itself. Even if it’s not incredibly hot outside, the humidity can make it feel hotter since your sweat can’t cool you off as well as it can in dry climates.
4. Monitor the color of your urine.
One of the ways you can assess your hydration level is by monitoring the color of your urine. Your urine should be light-colored and not dark or strong-smelling.
If your urine is very dark-colored and strong-smelling, it’s a sign of dehydration. If it’s completely clear, you’re likely drinking too much water at once.
5. Don’t stick to the “8 glasses a day” rule.
Everyone’s fluids needs are different, which is why it’s not possible to have a one size fits all fluid recommendation. Your fluid needs vary on factors like your climate, age, activity level, body composition, health conditions, and more.
The “eight 8-ounce glasses of water” rule isn’t based on any particular science. Instead of focusing on a specific amount of glasses of water per day, aim to drink enough that you don’t feel thirsty and so your urine is consistently light in color.
6. Increase fluids in hot and humid weather.
Even if you’re good about drinking water, you should still increase the amount you drink if you’re spending prolonged time in hot and/or humid weather. Fluid evaporates from your skin much quicker in heat which can cause faster dehydration.
7. Know your risk for dehydration.
To prevent dehydration, know if you’re at greater risk of developing it. Older people don’t have as strong of a sense of thirst so they are at greater risk of dehydration compared to younger people. Older people are also more likely to suffer a fall from fainting due to dehydration, which can lead to more significant injuries.
8. Eat water-rich foods.
To prevent dehydration, don’t forget to pay attention to the foods you eat. Foods high in water like melon, berries, grapes, and lettuce are all hydrating and can help count towards your fluid goals.
During hot weather, pick grapes off the stems and freeze them as healthy popsicles, or make your own homemade popsicles with pureed fruit and a splash of fruit juice.
9. Use electrolytes if you need them.
Most of the time, plain water is enough to help prevent dehydration as well as treat it. If you’re losing excessive amounts of sweat or are exercising for prolonged periods, you might benefit from taking electrolytes.
Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are the main minerals found in your sweat. If electrolyte levels become too low, it can cause health issues such as muscle cramps and irregular heartbeat.
You can buy electrolyte packets to mix in water or choose sports drinks for a combination of electrolytes and glucose (sugar).
10. Make a habit of drinking water throughout the day.
Keeping a water bottle near you at all times is the best reminder to stay hydrated and prevent dehydration. Keep a water bottle at your desk, in the car, and everywhere else you go throughout the day to remind you to stay hydrated.
If you struggle to drink enough water, you might try fruit-infused water to give it some flavor and interest. Slice up lemons, limes, or other fruit and let it steep in an infused water bottle overnight.
You can easily become dehydrated at any given time, even if it’s not hot or you’re not exercising. Simply falling behind on drinking water while you’re at work can be enough to dehydrate you before the day’s end.
The main ways to prevent dehydration are by making a consistent effort to drink water throughout the day. Always increase your fluid intake during times of illness or increased physical exertion and consult medical attention for signs of more severe dehydration.