Dehydration happens when more water moves out of your body than you are taking in. This is common in athletes, while swimming, playing outside in the heat or cold depending on how strenuous your activities are, and when you have conditions like diarrhea and vomiting. Dehydration causes your body to fall out of balance and it can happen fast. When it does, you are susceptible to health hazards that range from thirst to death. Know the signs and symptoms of dehydration so you can stay healthy and alert.
On the inside, even mild dehydration can affect your mind’s ability to concentrate; it can result in lowered energy levels, and can prevent organs from functioning efficiently. A dehydrated body is unable to cool itself, which can quickly lead to heat exhaustion and eventually a heat stroke. Prolonged dehydration results in muscle fatigue and a loss of coordination. This is important for athletes and those in charge of caring for children.
Your body sends signal to let you know when you are dehydrated. Since we are made-up of two-thirds water, even a 1% loss of fluid can result in the earliest dehydration symptom, thirst. At a loss of 2 – 5% of your body’s fluid, you can experience dry mouth, flushed skin, fatigue, headache and decreased physical performance. A 6% loss produces an increased body temperature, heavier breathing and elevated pulse rate. An 8% loss of water results in dizziness, increased weakness and labored breathing. At a 10% decrease, you body signals that there is immediate danger with muscle spasms, a swollen tongue, and possible delirium. When you reach an 11% loss of fluid you experience poor blood circulation and decreased kidney function. The internal consequences of dehydration continue to worsen as fluid loss increases. A 20% loss of body fluid is considered the bare survival rate.
Dehydration affects you on the outside first with dry skin and cuticles. We’ve all experienced “ashy” skin as a result of mild dehydration. If left untreated or if dehydration occurs often, the skin begins to show signs of aging – wrinkles, dullness, skin seems loose, less firm. The pinch test tells if you have dehydration, pinch a small amount of skin and pull it upward. If the skin stays instead of returning immediately to a taught, flat position, you are experiencing loss of fluids.
To treat dehydration, drink, drink, drink. Water is, of course, important. If you are ill and having trouble keeping water down, try ice chips first. Avoid juices and sports drinks that are high in sugar content. (Sugars make diarrhea worse.) Opt for Pedialite if water isn’t enough to rehydrate you. If dehydration has been sustained for a long period or if you are experiencing severe symptoms of dehydration, seek medical help.