Signs of Dehydration in Children and Adults – and Tips to Stay Hydrated

Updated: October 19th, 2022

Picture this: It’s around 2 pm, and you’re starting to feel sluggish, unproductive, and exhausted. There are still hours left before you can end your day and relax, so you must overcome this midday slump ASAP. While your first instinct might be to reach for another cup of coffee or a chai latte, all your body probably needs is water.

Dehydration can be very sneaky. It can secretly drain your energy, dampen your mood, and become life-threatening in severe cases. Yet, for something most Americans suffer from chronically (and perhaps you do, too), many people don’t know how to tell if they’re dehydrated. Then again, a lack of hydration doesn’t appear the same in everyone.

The symptoms of dehydration can vary greatly depending on the person affected, their age, the severity of the condition, and other factors. But if you ignore the signals that you’re not getting enough fluids or are not aware of them, it could lead to a more severe fluid loss that could become fatal.

This article explores some common causes of dehydration, signs you may be dehydrated, and a few simple and creative tips to help increase your fluid intake and remain hydrated throughout the day.

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration is typically described as a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t have as much fluid as it needs to perform routine tasks essential for normal body function. But according to MedlinePlus, being dehydrated doesn’t just mean your body is losing water – it also means you’re losing electrolytes, such as salt and potassium.

The stages of dehydration one experiences can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on how much fluid is missing from the body, which is estimated by a loss in body weight. Mild dehydration is losing no more than 5 to 6 percent of body weight. A loss of 7 to 10 percent is considered moderate. Severe dehydration (loss of over 10 percent of body weight) is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

What Causes Dehydration?

It’s normal to lose water daily through bodily functions like sweating, breathing, urinating, defecating, and crying. Usually, you replace the lost liquid by drinking fluids and eating water-rich foods, but you can get dehydrated if you lose too much water or don’t drink and eat enough.

However, you can lose more water than usual with the following:

  • Alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you urinate more.
  • Physical activity. You can also become dehydrated if you sweat excessively during exercise or after heavy, manual work in hot conditions.
  • Illness. Dehydration is often the result of an illness, such as gastroenteritis, where fluid is lost through persistent bouts of diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Diabetes. If you have diabetes, you’re at risk of dehydration because you have high glucose levels in your bloodstream. Your kidneys will try to eliminate the glucose by creating more urine, so your body becomes dehydrated from going to the toilet more frequently.
  • A fever. If you have a fever, your body loses fluid through your skin’s surface in an attempt to lower your temperature. Often, fevers can cause you to sweat so much that if you don’t drink to replenish, you could end up dehydrated.

There’s also the possibility that you might not replace the water you lose because you don’t realize you’re thirsty, you’re busy and forget to drink enough, or you don’t feel like drinking because you have a sore throat or mouth sores, or are sick to your stomach.

Signs of Dehydration 

As mentioned earlier, the signs of dehydration may appear differently in most people, depending on various factors, including the severity of the condition and the age of the person affected. With this in mind, let’s examine the signs and symptoms of dehydration in children and adults based on its severity.

Signs of mild or moderate dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Dark yellow urine or not urinating very much
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps

Signs of severe dehydration include:

  • Decreased skin elasticity and cracked lips
  • Not peeing or having very dark yellow pee
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Sunken eyes
  • Fainting
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion, or irritability
  • Poor concentration and altered mental state

Note: Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately.

Signs of Dehydration in Babies and Children

According to Healthline, an infant or child who’s dehydrated may not show the same signs as adults, making it difficult for parents and caregivers to identify potential dehydration. Infants and kids are more susceptible to dehydration caused by diarrhea, fever, and vomiting because they have a higher metabolic rate and lose more water daily than adults. Beyond that, babies and younger children usually depend on caregivers for hydration.

Signs of mild to moderate dehydration in babies and young children may include:

  • Playing less frequently
  • Fewer tears when crying
  • Less frequent urination (fewer than six wet diapers a day for babies)
  • Dry tongue and lips
  • The fontanelle, or soft spot on the infant’s head, is sunken
  • Diarrhea or constipation, depending on the cause of fluid loss

In addition to the signs and symptoms listed above, kids with severe dehydration may show the following:

  • Extreme agitation
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Sunken eyes
  • Wrinkled skin
  • A cold feeling
  • Discolored hands and feet
  • Minimal urination (less than twice per day)
  • Low blood pressure
  • An increased heart rate
  • An altered mental status

Signs of Dehydration in Older Adults (the Elderly)

Older adults are at higher risk for dehydration than infants and children. Some older adults can become chronically dehydrated if they take certain medications, such as diuretics. They can also metabolically have a diminished sense of thirst or physically have difficulty getting a glass of water.

Signs of dehydration in the elderly include:

  • Shriveled skin
  • A sunken look in the eyes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Delirium
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Muscle cramping

The Importance of Proper Daily Hydration

Proper daily hydration is an essential and often overlooked aspect of maintaining good health. As we age, it’s even more crucial to stay hydrated. If you aren’t sure why it’s vital to drink enough water throughout the day, here are several great reasons to drink more:

  • It boosts energy and brain function. Hydration plays a crucial role in how well your brain functions. A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that drinking water may enhance brainpower. The study participants performed better and faster on a series of cognitive tasks after drinking water than those who did not. Separate studies conducted at the University of Connecticut have also concluded that even mild dehydration can cause mood, lack of concentration, memory issues, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, and brain performance issues for people of all ages. Since you lose water through everyday activities, you must stay hydrated to reduce your risk of these problems.
  • It helps cleanse the body. Every day, toxins from food, beverages, air, and other environmental contaminants, enter the body. These toxins can cause physical imbalances, diseases, and other disruptions, which make your body feel fatigued and weighed down. Drinking water cleanses your body by helping organs like your kidneys filter waste from your body. The more water you drink, the more toxins your body releases. This, in turn, makes you feel more energized and refreshed.
  • It lubricates joints and helps muscles function correctly. If you’ve ever experienced joint pains or muscle cramps, you know how uncomfortable and painful they can be. Usually, the cause of your discomfort is dehydration. The cartilage in joints and the spine’s disks contains around 80 percent water. According to Orthopedic Associates, “dehydration can cause joint pain because of the lubricating effect it has on the joints. Synovial fluid is the thick lubrication between the joints, giving you a cushion so the bones don’t come in contact. This fluid is located in the joints throughout your body: hips, knees, feet, shoulders, and hands.” Long-term dehydration can reduce the joint’s shock-absorbing ability, leading to joint pain. Also, muscles consume oxygen to produce energy. Therefore, with proper hydration, your heart can efficiently pump blood (containing oxygen) to your muscles, causing them to function better.
  • It aids digestion. Water helps your body to absorb and digest food from your digestive system. It also keeps the food you eat moving along through your intestines and keeps your intestines smooth and flexible.
  • It improves skin health. When dehydrated, the skin becomes more vulnerable to various skin disorders, wrinkling, and fine lines. Fortunately, proper hydration helps prevent this. Once adequately hydrated, the kidneys chime in and excrete excess fluids and toxins from your body, cleansing your skin and keeping it looking soft, supple, and smooth. Proper hydration also helps lock in moisture in the skin.
  • It promotes weight loss. Water can also help with weight loss – if consumed instead of sweetened beverages. Also, drinking water before meals can help prevent overeating by creating a sense of fullness.
  • It helps regulate blood pressure. Little water in the body can cause blood to become thicker, increasing blood pressure. When you’re dehydrated, your blood volume may decrease, possibly leading to a drop in blood pressure. When your blood pressure drops too low, your organs won’t get the needed oxygen and nutrients. You could potentially go into shock. Drinking ample amounts of water every day can help avoid these undesirable and potentially fatal situations.
  • It improves cardiovascular health. “Water is also critical for your heart health,” says the Heart Foundation. Your heart is a big muscle that works tirelessly to ensure you get adequate oxygen to all your cells. But without enough water in the body to support its 24/7 operation, it can become overworked. Dehydration lowers your blood volume, causing the heart to work harder and faster to pump blood containing oxygen to all parts of your body. An overworked and exhausted heart is prone to attacks, strokes, and other life-threatening heart conditions. Luckily, drinking ample amounts of water every day decreases our chances of such heart problems.
  • It helps maximize physical performance. Staying hydrated also means your body has enough fluids to maximize your physical performance, whether it’s sports, exercise, or everyday activities. When your body loses water, your energy levels begin to decrease, causing your physical performance to suffer. Drinking enough fluids and staying hydrated replenishes the electrolytes in your body, so you have more energy to power through whatever physical activity you’re engaging in. This is particularly important during intense exercise or working in a hot climate.
  • It helps treat ailments. When you have various infections and illnesses, it’s vital to stay hydrated. The body works hard to fight viruses and bacteria, so drinking enough liquids can replenish the energy lost and help you recover faster. Hydration helps combat common health issues, such as headaches, kidney stones, colds, flu, seizures, etc.
  • It enhances kidney function. As you probably know, the kidneys do a fantastic job regulating fluid in the body. However, insufficient water in the body can lead to kidney stones and other problems.
  • It improves mood. Proper daily hydration helps normalize body and brain functions, enhancing your mood and ability to concentrate.

Tips for Staying Hydrated Throughout the Day

Water is flavorless, so it doesn’t excite the tastebuds like sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. For this reason, many people might forgo drinking it or drink too little. Then there are those people with busy schedules who might forget to drink enough water daily to stay hydrated.

But considering the benefits of proper daily hydration outlined above and the potential health problems of not drinking enough, you might want to start paying attention to the amount of fluid you consume every day and take action if you find that you drink too little.

If you’re ready to start (or continue) taking good care of your health, we’ve come up with a few simple and creative ways to help you drink more water and stay hydrated throughout the day, and, hopefully, make it a daily habit.

  • Keep a reusable water bottle on hand throughout the day. 

A reusable water bottle is a foolproof and environmentally friendly way to maintain good daily hydration. You can keep them anywhere – in the living room, at the bedside, in the gym bag, or handbag – to act as a visual reminder to drink. A nice-looking, extra-large vessel on your desk, filled up each morning and consumed throughout the workday, can be a practical way to maintain your water intake, especially when you’re out and about for the day. You’re likely to drink more water when it’s right next to you.

  • Skip sugar-sweetened beverages when thirsty. 

Reaching for soda or fruit juice when you’re thirsty might seem like a harmless way to hydrate. However, these beverages do more harm than good. Sure, they’re flavorful, tasty, and sometimes fizzy, but in addition to harming your health and teeth, they only end up making you thirstier.

Sodas and juices are high in sugar, like fructose and glucose, which can contribute to tooth decay and inhibit the body from absorbing the water it needs. The excess sugar levels in these drinks can also cause the body to release hormones to lower them. However, the body often releases too much, leading to crashes that make you feel tired, irritable, and hungry.

If you need that flavored or fizzy liquid, try drinking flavored sparkling water (make sure you’re aware of carbonated water’s benefits and side effects before making the switch). You can also try mineral water. But unsweetened herbal teas might be an excellent choice if it’s the caffeine you’re after.

  • Snack on foods with high water content. 

If you’re not fond of gulping excessive fluids daily, why not turn to water-rich snacks? After all, around 20 percent of your daily fluid intake comes from food. Watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, cucumber, and celery are foods all made up of more than 90 percent water. Aside from increasing your water intake, some foods also contain vitamins, nutrients, electrolytes, and fiber to keep the body refreshed and skin glowing.

  • Infuse water with fruits for a kick of flavor and variety. 

If plain water is not your taste, incorporating fruits can add a kick of flavor to your water and make it more delicious. Cucumber, mint leaves, lime, lemon, and orange are some popular choices, but you could experiment with other flavors. Not only will you receive the benefits from the water, but some fruits are rich in antioxidants that may help flush toxins from your body, aid muscle fatigue, boost metabolism, and fill your stomach, so you’re less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.

  • Set water goals, create a routine, and track your daily water intake. 

Another excellent way to ensure you drink enough water throughout the day is to set clear water goals and track every ounce of water you drink. Scheduling your water intake, like two glasses at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is an easy way to know you’re getting enough water. You can also set reminders or alarms on your mobile device, post a sticky note reminder on your desk, or draw lines on your water bottle with hours to drink water throughout the day.

  • Reward yourself. 

Forming good water habits isn’t always easy. But when we reward ourselves for doing so, it’s easier to stay on track and achieve our goals more quickly. It’s also a helpful motivation tool. So, don’t forget to reward yourself once you’ve set your water intake goal, tracked it, and achieved it! Your body will thank you. The reward doesn’t even have to be extravagant. Just make sure it will encourage you to continue drinking more water.

How to Ensure Your Drinking Water Is Safe for Daily Hydration

Drinking adequate amounts of water daily is essential to maintaining a healthy body – but not if your drinking water contains harmful chemicals, contaminants, and impurities.

The most reliable way to ensure your water is safe for daily hydration is to filter it. Filtration helps remove unwanted and potentially dangerous elements that could otherwise endanger your health if you ingest them.

The best way to filter your water is to invest in a water filtration system, like an under-counter reverse osmosis filter or whole house water filtration system. Each provides your home with healthy, great-tasting water that you can bottle and take with you.

If you need a solution that provides clean, fresh, contaminant-free water at specific outlets in your home, like your kitchen faucet, an under-counter reverse osmosis filter may be the perfect fit. Easily installed under your kitchen sink, this point-of-use (POU) system uses reverse osmosis to eliminate a broad range of contaminants from water, including lead, copper, fluoride, arsenic, aluminum, chlorine, chloramine, herbicides, and pesticides, among many others.

In contrast, a whole-house water filter delivers tasty, high-quality water to all water outlets in your household. It achieves this by treating all the water entering your home, meaning you’ll have access to clean filtered water at your kitchen and bathroom faucets, washing machine and dishwasher, and all other outlets. Whole-house systems typically use different filtering techniques, technologies, and features to target and remove harmful contaminants like chlorine, chloramine, PFAS, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, haloacetic acids, and many more.

Depending on the model whole-house system you purchase, you may be able to customize it with a UV Water Purification System to control microbiological issues in water, such as viruses and bacteria, thereby removing foul odors and taste and protecting you and your family from diseases, infections, and other adverse health conditions.

Want to learn more about the best water filter for cleaner, healthier, and better-tasting water and how to find the ideal one for your needs? Reach out to us on chat or give us a call at 800-589-5592.

Final Thoughts

Dehydration is quite common among many Americans and can be caused by illness, extreme exercise, medication use, or insufficient fluid intake. The signs and symptoms typically include dark-colored urine, decreased urination, headaches, fatigue, dry skin, decreased skin turgor, and poor concentration. However, the signals may vary in babies and young children, from less wet diapers and fewer tears when crying to diarrhea or constipation and dry tongue and lips.

So, ensure you and your children (if you have any) get enough fluids every day by drinking plenty of water or other liquids. If you’re drinking water from your tap, you might need to invest in a water filter to remove any potentially harmful contaminants that could sabotage your health and hydration efforts.

Also, if, based on the signs outlined in this article, you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be severely dehydrated, contact a healthcare professional for help right away.

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