Dehydration is a potentially life-threatening health condition. Fortunately, it is easy to prevent by taking some simple steps. In this article, we provide tips on how to recognize the symptoms of dehydration and list strategies for staying hydrated during every season.
Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration occurs when your body loses more water than it takes in. It can be caused by a variety of factors, such as not drinking enough fluids, sweating excessively, or being ill with fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. Depending on the amount of fluid loss and the level of electrolyte imbalance, dehydration can range from mild to severe.
The common signs of mild to moderate dehydration include:
- Extreme thirst
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Cracked lips
- Urinating less than usual
- Inability to sweat
- Dark-colored urine
- Dry and cool skin
- Muscle cramps
- Difficulty concentrating
It is important to recognize the symptoms of dehydration as early on as possible and take the necessary steps to prevent it from becoming severe.
When to seek medical help
Prolonged dehydration can cause conditions such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, kidney failure, as well as swelling of the brain and seizures. When not treated promptly, severe dehydration can be fatal.
The following symptoms may indicate that you’re severely dehydrated and require immediate medical attention:
- You are not urinating at all.
- Your urine is very dark.
- You are feeling disoriented and confused.
- You have had a seizure.
- You are feeling dizzy when you stand.
- You are experiencing a weak or rapid pulse.
- Your eyes are sunken.
- Your skin has lost elasticity and appears dry and shriveled.
- You are experiencing low blood pressure.
How Much Water Does an Average Person Need a Day
It is generally recommended to drink about 11.5 cups or 2.7 liters of fluids a day for women and 15.5 cups or 3.7 liters a day for men. This includes both water, other beverages such as teas and juices, and food which accounts for around 20% of daily fluid intake.
While most people will stay hydrated by drinking water and other fluids whenever they feel thirsty, you may need to drink more if you fall into one of the following categories:
- You live in a hot, humid, or dry area.
- You live at a high altitude.
- You spend plenty of time outdoors in the sun or hot temperatures.
- You are very active during the day, walk or stand a lot, exercise, or do other intense activities.
- You consume a lot of coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
- Your diet is high in salty, sugary, or spicy foods.
- You have an infection, a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Can a Person Drink Too Much Water?
The kidneys can eliminate around 27-34 ounces of water per hour, which corresponds to a total of 20-28 liters per day. When you drink more water than your kidneys can process, the sodium content of your blood may become diluted and lead to life-threatening swelling of the brain (cerebral edema) and organ failure. This condition is known as water intoxication or delusional hyponatremia.
The symptoms of water intoxication include headache, confusion, disorientation, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms are caused by swelling of the cells in the brain that lead to increased pressure inside the skull. Severe cases of water intoxication can provoke symptoms such as:
- Muscle weakness or cramping
- Increased blood pressure
- Double vision
- Inability to identify sensory information
- Difficulty breathing
The good news is that it is very difficult to consume too much water by accident and water intoxication is extremely rare. It is more likely to occur in individuals who consume excessive amounts of water in a short period of time, for example, endurance athletes.
Below, we list some simple steps you can take to prevent dehydration and keep your body healthy.
How to Combat Dehydration
If you are not properly hydrated, your body won’t be able to function at its best. These tips will help you quench your thirst and recover from dehydration.
Drinking the recommended daily amounts of water is essential for preventing dehydration. Make sure to always have water nearby and take small sips every 30 minutes. You should keep in mind that coffee and alcoholic beverages don’t count toward your daily water intake and can make your dehydration worse.
Coconut water contains high levels of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium, which are essential electrolytes that your body loses when you sweat. These electrolytes help regulate the balance of fluids in your body, making it easier for your cells to absorb water and stay hydrated.
Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and Lucozade Sport, can help maintain optimal hydration levels during intense physical activity or exercise. They consist of a combination of water, carbohydrates, and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, that help regulate fluid balance in the body.
Oral rehydration salt
Oral rehydration salt (ORS) solutions contain a mix of glucose, electrolytes, and minerals that can help increase your hydration levels. You can buy oral rehydration salt over the counter, get a prescription, or make your own using water, salt, and sugar.
Eating foods that contain lots of water
Eating foods that contain a lot of water is a simple and effective way to stay hydrated. Foods with high water content include:
- Leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
- Clear soups
- Fresh juices
- Green smoothies
Hydrating is important not only during summer when it’s hot and you sweat more, but at any time of year. Here’s how you can stay hydrated during every season.
How to Stay Hydrated During All Four Seasons
Hot summer temperatures can cause you to dehydrate very quickly, especially if you spend longer periods of time outside. Staying hydrated will help you avoid serious health conditions such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Tips for hydration during the summer
- Carry a reusable bottle with you so that you can sip on water throughout the day.
- Keep your drink cold and refreshing with ice cubes.
- Infuse your water with lemon, orange, or cucumber slices to make it easier to drink.
- Drink iced tea or mix it with lemonade to keep you hydrated on a hot summer day.
- Drink cold brew coffee which is less acidic than regular coffee.
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables like watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, cucumbers, celery, radishes, and grapefruit. These foods will help you stay hydrated longer because your body needs more time to absorb water from food.
- Make hydrating and nutritional smoothies using your favorite fruits and vegetables.
In spite of colder weather, your body still needs to stay hydrated and you should keep drinking the same amount of water that you did in the summer.
Tips for hydration during the fall
- Instead of a water bottle, carry with you an insulated tumbler with a warm beverage.
- Drinking warm tea is a great way to remain hydrated when it’s colder outside.
- Eat seasonal fruits that contain plenty of water and are a good source of vitamin C and other nutrients.
- Eat warm homemade soups to hydrate your body and increase your daily intake of vegetables.
Dry air and low humidity in winter can cause you to get dehydrated and provoke headaches, dizziness, fatigue, muscle cramps, and a weakened immune system.
Tips for hydration during the winter
- Use a reminder app or a smart water bottle to remind you to drink regularly throughout the day.
- Drink plenty of warm beverages, such as green tea, cinnamon tea, or hot chocolate to stay hydrated during the winter.
- Eat foods that have high water content and especially leafy greens, such as lettuce, kale, and spinach.
- Wear layers of clothes made of breathable fabrics in order to minimize water loss caused by perspiration.
Warmer spring temperatures can cause you to sweat more and increase the risk of dehydration.
Tips for hydration during the spring
- Have a water drinking routine: drink a glass of water when you wake up, before each meal, and regularly throughout the day.
- Find easy ways to incorporate hydration into your daily schedule, such as setting a reminder on your phone to have a glass of water every hour.
- Track your water intake in a hydration app, like WaterMinder or Aqualert, to ensure that you reach your daily hydration goals.
- Give more flavor to your water by adding wedges of orange, lemon, or lime. For a sweeter taste, you can use strawberries or raspberries.
- Eat fruit popsicles. Make sure to check the sugar content in store-bought popsicles and go for low-sugar options. Alternatively, there are many healthy fruit popsicle recipes available if you prefer to make your own.
Staying hydrated is essential for maintaining optimal physical and mental health. By understanding the causes and symptoms of dehydration, as well as the ways to prevent it, such as drinking plenty of fluids and eating foods with high water content, you can ensure a sufficient daily fluid intake.
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