The Dangers of Dehydration – Signs You’re Not Drinking Enough Water
Excessive heat and vague symptoms can cause dehydration to sneak up on you. A lot of people get dehydrated in the summertime because of the heat and humidity or from extra activity and sweating, and they don’t increase their water intake! Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount taken in through drinking. The lost fluid impairs the body’s ability to function normally, causes imbalances in electrolytes and glucose levels, and triggers various symptoms. Severe dehydration can lead to health complications and death.
Infants and children have the highest risk for dehydration, but adults, especially endurance athletes, outdoor workers, and the elderly, also can be impacted.
Warning Signs of Dehydration
Symptoms of dehydration vary depending on its stage. Below are just some of the more general signs of mild dehydration to moderate dehydration:
- Always feeling thirsty
- Dizziness or feeling like you could pass out
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry mouth and skin
- Persistent headache
- Decreased urination or yellow, concentrated urine
People experiencing chronic dehydration experience more severe symptoms, such as:
- Fever over 101 degrees
- Feeling tired or lethargic
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Excessive vomiting or diarrhea
- Heat stroke
Dehydration in Children & Infants
The above symptoms mostly apply to adults. Infants and young children manifest other symptoms of chronic dehydration, namely:
- No tears when crying
- Diaper remains dry even after 3 hours
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Sunken eyes
- Low energy
Dehydration is serious and can land you in the hospital. Most people recover quickly by drinking fluids that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates and upping their intake of water, but severe cases can require IV fluids and extra rest.
While it is important to drink water every day, you should also be mindful of conditions that can trigger dehydration. They include:
- Excessing sweating
- More urine output than usual
Be on the lookout for these dehydration symptoms in yourself and others, especially infants, the elderly, and high school athletes who have started practicing for fall sports! Encourage athletes and outdoor workers to replace fluids and drink on a regular basis. Beat the heat by carrying a reusable water bottle with you or a low-calorie sports drink and replenish fluids throughout the day.
There is some truth to the adage: Let thirst be your guide! The best prevention is to stay well-hydrated and pay attention to how much you are drinking, sweating, and urinating and how you feel. Here are other ways to prevent dehydration:
- Drink on a schedule. If you keep forgetting to drink water, set alarms during the hours you should drink.
- Drink water before, during, and after exercising to compensate for the lost fluid due to sweating.
- If you think you’re hungry, drink a glass of water first. You might be mistaking thirst for hunger.
- Keep a bottle or canister close by so that you can easily replenish water loss before feeling thirsty.
The Bottom Line
Physical therapy encompasses injury rehabilitation, sports and performance medicine, nutrition, and total-body health and wellness. Nutrition, along with staying hydrated and drinking the right fluids, can affect your recovery and function. Check out our physical therapy rehabilitation services for more information!
Article by: Holly Lookabaugh
Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA
Holly Lookabaugh is a practicing physical therapist, partner and Director of Clinical Services at Ivy Rehab Network with more than 40 years of experience in sports management with young athletes, and is board certified as a geriatric clinical specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults. Deuer is certified as an aquatic and oncology rehabilitation specialist and serves as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.
- WebMD, What is Dehydration? What Causes It?, https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/dehydration-adults, accessed Dec. 6, 2021
- WebMD, What should I do if I’m dehydrated? https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/dehydration-in-adults-treatment, accessed Dec. 6, 2021
- Healthline, What does it mean when dehydration becomes long-term and serious?, https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-dehydration, accessed Dec. 6, 2021
- Theraflu, Staying Hydrated When You’re Sick, https://www.theraflu.com/treating-cold-flu/why-drink-fluids-when-sick/, accessed Dec. 6, 2021