Let’s be honest for a moment: everyone is at risk for dehydration. Even if you drink a lot of fluids, you may become dehydrated. Because everyone is at risk, it’s good to know the signs of dehydration.
Dehydration happens when your body has insufficient water. Without the right amount of fluids, your body can’t function properly. As a result, you might experience seizures, blood clots, and some fatal complications.
Causes of Dehydration
Before we get to the signs of dehydration in adults, let’s talk for a moment about what causes dehydration. And later, I’ll share some tips and tricks for staying hydrated. But here are the causes:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Increased urination
- Too much exercise
- Significant injuries to the skin, including mouth sores and burns
- Diabetes and similar diseases
We won’t include problems like the impaired ability to drink (e.g., when you’re in a coma or on a respirator). That being said, let’s take a look at some of the mild and early signs of dehydration.
The first and most logical sign is thirst. Your body will always send you signals when you’re deficient in something. For example, when you need food, you feel hunger. When you have a deficiency of some minerals and vitamins, your body will send you other signals. But when you’re dehydrated, you feel increased thirst. And this isn’t a thirst you can satisfy with just one glass of water.
Another logical sign is dry mouth. Every part of your body needs fluids to function properly. For your mouth, water and other fluids keep the mouth moist. But when you’re dehydrated, your body preserves fluids, and it saves up fluids from non-vital organs like your mouth.
There are two things that happen when you’re dehydrated that are closely related to your urine. First and foremost, your urine output is decreased. You just can’t pee without fluids. The second sign is the colour—your urine is more yellow than normal.
As mentioned previously, when you’re dehydrated, your body saves fluids. And one thing that happens is your body doesn’t produce enough saliva. Saliva is responsible for keeping your breath fresh; it has antibacterial properties, and without it, bacteria will overgrow in your mouth. Think of the bad breath as a side reaction from chronic dehydration.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that people who dehydrate often sweat. And that they are sweaty. In fact, people who are dehydrated have extremely dry skin. When you’re dehydrated, your body has a low amount of fluids, and there is nothing to moisturize your skin and keep it moist.
Some people think that you can’t dehydrate in the cooler seasons. Think again. Whether the weather is hot or cold, you can dehydrate; you can even suffer from heat-related illnesses in cooler weather.
One reason why bodybuilders drink water when working out is muscle cramps. Without proper hydration, your muscles can’t recover and refresh. And as a result, you get muscle cramps. Some people say that muscle cramps are a pure heat effect on the muscles, but dehydration plays a role as well.
In addition to dehydration, an imbalance of sodium, potassium, and/or electrolytes causes muscle cramps as well.
When you have a cold, flu, or even a fever, what is the first thing the doctor tells you to do? Drink enough fluids, right? Well, the reason is simple. It works both ways. When you have a fever, you might feel dehydrated. And fever can also be one of the signs of dehydration. It’s a vicious circle.
Let’s imagine this scenario. You ate something like 30 minutes ago. But you’re still craving food, and what’s odd is that you’re craving sweets, chocolates, cakes, and similar sugary food. Although you might think that’s a regular food craving, it’s actually a sign of dehydration. The best thing to do in that case is to eat some fruit that has high water content. The reason why you have a craving for sweets is that your body can’t produce enough glycogens, which also help provide the body with water.
Last, but not least of the mild and early signs of dehydration, is a headache. Let’s turn to biology for a second. Your brain is located in a fluid sack. This sack keeps your brain from bumping against the skull. When you’re low on fluids, that fluid sack is depleted. And your brain can push up against some parts of the skull, which in turn, causes headaches. So, drink plenty of water to prevent migraines and headaches.
If you don’t do something about your dehydration, you develop severe symptoms. Here are some of the more troublesome signs of dehydration:
- Sunken eyes
- Irritability and confusion
- Low blood pressure
- Little or no urination
- No tears when crying
- Rapid heartbeat
- Your skin doesn’t bounce back when you pinch it
Dehydration in infants
The signs of dehydration we explained are mild symptoms in adults. But infants are vulnerable to dehydration as well. And it’s even more challenging, as they need immediate attention. Here are some symptoms of dehydration in infants:
- Few wet diapers
- Fast breathing
- No tears when the baby cries
- Sunken soft spot on their head
How to check whether you’re dehydrated
In addition to watching for early signs of dehydration, there are two simple methods you can use to check for dehydration.
The first one is the skin test. Grab a roll of skin on the back of your hand (use two fingers for this). The area you’re targeting is between your fingers and your watch. Pull the skin up, and then let it go—your skin should spring back to the normal position in just a second. If your skin bounces back slowly, you’re dehydrated.
The second test is the urine test. When you have the right amount of fluids, your urine is mostly clear. However, when you take a pee, and your urine is a chardonnay, orange, or yellow colour, your body is sending you a warning sign. The early sign is a yellow colour, while orange is a sign of severe dehydration.
Should you seek medical care?
In most cases, you can easily take care of dehydration by drinking water and taking some electrolytes. However, there are situations for which you need medical care. If you notice/experience any of the following symptoms, check with your doctor:
- Fever over 101oF
- Constant vomiting that lasts for more than a day
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than two days
- Chest or abdominal pain
- No urine in the last 12 hours
- Fainting and difficulty breathing
How to stay hydrated
The best way to prevent dehydration is to stay hydrated. And that’s an easy task to accomplish. I always believe in the premise that it is better to prevent something than cure to it. So, I would like to share some tips and tricks to stay hydrated.
- Spice up your water by adding some fruit. Lemon water is a great way to add vitamins and minerals. Other good options include strawberries, apples, limes, watermelon, and raspberries.
- Try a different tea. If you notice that tea makes you dehydrated, try unsweetened, flavoured teas. Peppermint or chamomile tea is great to increase your fluids and stay hydrated. Avoid tea that contains caffeine if you have trouble staying hydrated.
- Swap snacks like chips, crackers, and pretzels for healthier options like fruit yoghurt, smoothies, celery, fruits, and veggies with hummus.
- Sip water during meals so that you eat more slowly and pace your eating.
- Drink room temperature water. Avoid ice water, as it prevents the stomach from functioning properly. When you drink ice water, it stays in your stomach until it warms up
What about sports drinks?
One of the most marketed products nowadays is sports drinks. The premise is that sports drinks keep you hydrated. Well, that’s a lot of nonsense. Mainstream media will not tell you, but sports drinks are rich in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This common sweetener is almost as dangerous as table sugar, and their chemical composure is almost the same. In addition to keeping you dehydrated, HFCS has an erosive effect on your teeth.
Therefore, I recommend that you stay away from sports drinks. Sodas, commercial fruit juices, and all other beverages that contain sweeteners are also a no-no.