Dehydration happens when the body isn’t getting as much water as it needs. Without enough, your body can’t properly function. 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.
Signs of moderate dehydration can include:
- Muscle cramps
- Dry mouth
- Dark yellow urine
- Dry skin
Signs of severe dehydration can include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Fainting or sleepiness
You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, but severe dehydration needs immediate medical treatment.
Infants and young children are most likely to have severe dehydration because they cannot tell you when they’re thirsty. Infants also lose the most water from a high fever.
Symptoms for babies and young children can be different than adults. Parents should look for:
- No tears when crying
- Dry diaper for 3 hours
- Sunken eyes or cheeks
Effective treatment is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. For infants and children, use an over-the-counter oral solution, which contains water and salts to replenish both fluids and electrolytes simultaneously.
Adults with mild dehydration can improve their condition by drinking more water or diluted sports drink to replenish.
Children and adults who are severely dehydrated should be treated by emergency personnel.