Symptoms Of Dehydration: In Babies, Children, And Adults

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Symptoms Of Dehydration

The signs and symptoms of dehydration may differ by age. While infants or young children are more prone to dehydration than adults, you need to watch out for early warning signs like - few or no tears when crying, sunken soft spot on top of skull, no wet diapers for 3 hrs. In older adults, hallmark symptoms include thirst, less frequent urination, dark-colored urine.

Water is critical for life. It accounts for over two-thirds of your body and performs many important functions like lubricating your eyes and joints, keeping your skin healthy, removing toxins and wastes from the body, and helping with digestion. Now, most adults need about eight to ten cups of water in a day, though this can vary depending on factors like the weather.1

But what if your body is deprived of water? When you’re dehydrated, your body no longer has the amount of fluid it needs to be able to function properly. Loss of water can upset the mineral (sugars and salts) balance in your body. If dehydration is not corrected, it can lead to serious consequences like brain damage and, in extreme cases, even death. That’s why severe dehydration is considered a medical emergency which requires urgent attention.

Let’s take a look at some signs which could indicate that you’re dehydrated.

Symptoms Of Dehydration

Thirst is one of the early signs of dehydration. So is passing dark-colored urine, unlike normal urine which tends to be straw-colored. These signs develop as your body tries to manage dehydration by increasing water intake and reducing water loss.

Aside from these two, here are a few signs of dehydration that you need to watch out for.

Signs Of Dehydration In Babies

Babies may be dehydrated if you notice the following:

  • They cry without tears or shed few tears.
  • Babies have soft spots (known as fontanelle) where the bones of the skull have not yet firmly joined together. A sunken soft spot is indicative of dehydration.
  • They have a dry mouth.
  • They pass urine less frequently and you need to change nappies less often – no wet diapers for about 3 hours.2
  • The urine is a dark yellow color.
  • They are unusually drowsy.
  • They are breathing unusually fast.
  • Their hands and feet have become cold and blotchy.

Signs Of Dehydration In Children

Signs of moderate dehydration in children take these forms:

  • They may appear to be generally unwell.
  • They may seem lethargic or irritable.
  • They may urinate less.
  • Their breathing may become more rapid. That is, a child aged 6 to 12 months may take more than 50 breaths in a minute and a child over 12 months may take more than 40 breaths in a minute.
  • Their heartbeat may become unusually fast. That is, you may observe a heart rate of over 160 beats per minute in a child younger than 1, over 150 beats per minute in a child aged 1–2 years, and over 140 beats per minute in a child aged 2–5 years.3

If dehydration is severe, the following symptoms kick in:

  • They have a lower level of consciousness.
  • Their skin becomes pale or mottled.
  • Their hands and feet become cold as circulation slows.
  • Their breathing and heart rate may accelerate as dehydration worsens.4

Signs Of Dehydration In Adults

Here are the symptoms of moderate dehydration in an adult:

  • You may urinate less.
  • You may feel apathetic or tired.
  • You may lose stamina and strength.
  • You may feel dizzy or lightheaded.
  • You may feel nauseous.
  • You may get a headache or muscle cramps.
  • Your mouth, lips, tongue, and eyes may feel dry.
  • You may get sunken eyes.
  • Your pulse may quicken.

If dehydration is severe you may find that:

  • You feel increasingly apathetic and weak.
  • You feel confused.
  • You are not able to pass urine for a long period (say, around 8 hours).
  • You look pale and get a rapid pulse.
  • You lose consciousness.
  • You get dizzy when you stand up and the dizziness does not pass after a few seconds.5 6

What Should You Do About it?

Taking in fluids can help you rehydrate. But do keep in mind that infants and children shouldn’t be given only water when they get dehydrated as this can dilute mineral levels in their body. Instead, give children an oral rehydration solution (ORS) and feed babies breast milk as well as ORS to help replace salts and sugars that have been lost.

When Should You See A Doctor?

Severe dehydration should be treated as a medical emergency. Check in with a doctor if your baby or toddler is showing signs of dehydration even if it doesn’t look severe. Also, do speak to a doctor if your baby has six or more instances of diarrhea in 24 hours, or vomits three or more times in 24 hours.

It might be best to seek medical help if you continue to show signs of dehydration in spite of taking fluids. You doctor may test your blood or urine to find out if the balance of salts (potassium and sodium) in your body is healthy.7

References   [ + ]

1.Water – a vital nutrient. Department of Health & Human Services.
2.Dehydration. National Institutes of Health.
3, 4, 5.Dehydration. NIDirect government services.
6, 7.Dehydration – Symptoms. National Health Service.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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