Symptoms of Dehydration in Every Age and How to Combat It

Electrolytes are fundamental to good health. They transmit millions of messages per second through the nervous system. Electrolytes aid in brain, heart and nerve function as well as muscle control and coordination. They are crucial for cellular function. The body’s ability to absorb fluids depends on a healthy balance of electrolytes. Without a proper balance between fluids and electrolytes our health will decline. 

What Causes Dehydration?

Dehydration is the loss of water and salts necessary for normal body functions.  

It happens when more water is lost than taken in.  Illness such as flu with diarrhea and vomiting, heat, insufficient water intake, excessive exercise in high temperatures, overuse of diuretics and other medications, and diminution of the thirst reflex common to old age are causes

Severe imbalances can even be fatal. Conditions that disrupt electrolyte balance include illnesses that cause fevers, vomiting, or diarrhea. Other causes are prescription drugs such as diuretics, caffeine (including coffee and caffeinated soft drinks), excessive perspiration, extreme exercise, and inadequate fluid consumption. 

Effects of Dehydration

Loss of only 2% of body fluids is cause for concern.  Higher levels are life-threatening.  Besides hypovolemic shock, blood pressure drops so low it can’t be recorded.  Heartbeat increases and breathing gets shallow.  Skin at the tight spots, like elbows and knees, gets blotchy.  Restlessness and anxiety may follow.   When the body’s temperature reaches higher than 105° F,  brain damage may occur. 

As we age the water level in our bodies decreases making us more prone to dehydration. You can suffer from dehydration without realizing it.

Effects of Dehydration on the Elderly

Older adults have smaller fluid reserves and are less able to conserve water.  Thirst sensation becomes less acute, as well.  Chronic disorders and the drugs they take compound the matter.  All adults are well-served with drinking half an ounce of water per pound of body weight. 

The elderly are particularly susceptible to dehydration without being aware of what is happening. Older people have 60% water content in their bodies as opposed to 70% water content in younger people. Elderly people also have a lower thirst response, which, when combined with other aging factors, such as swallowing difficulties, poor food intake, laxative use, and even resisting fluids due to anxiety associated with incontinence, can contribute to a state of dehydration without the individual being aware of it. As we age our kidneys allow glucose and sodium to escape along with necessary fluids to stay healthy. This also causes an increased chance of dehydration. Dehydration may also contribute to some conditions that are associated with aging, such as confusion, lethargy, low urine input, to name a few. 

Dehydration in Children and Teens

Thirst is not a reliable indicator of the need for water.  Often, thirst is not felt until a person is already dehydrated.  That makes it vital that drinking water during hot weather becomes a routine.  In a child, some signs include a lack of tears, a dry tongue, a diaper that is dry for more than three hours, sunken eyes and cheeks, a sunken fontanel, and listlessness/irritability.  Older children—and even adults—will have extreme thirst, infrequent urination, dark urine, fatigue, lightheadedness and confusion.  In severe cases, the person will not be able to keep fluids down and will have black or bloody stools or diarrhea.  

Children have a higher surface area to volume ratio, causing them to lose water faster in stressful times, such as flu or other febrile state.  Age, weight, gender and activity levels determine how much water a child needs.  Keep in mind that water comes from other beverages and from foods, especially from fruits and some vegetables.  Up to age eight, a child needs seven cups of water a day; nine-ten cups to age thirteen; and up to ten-fourteen cups a day from ages fourteen to eighteen.  

Infants and young children are also at risk of electrolyte imbalance whenever they lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhea because of illness. The body’s ability to absorb fluids all depends on a healthy balance of electrolytes. Balance is the ultimate goal. 

Symptoms of early or mild dehydration include: 

  • flushed face 
  • extreme thirst, more than normal or unable to drink 
  • dry, warm skin 
  • cannot pass urine or reduced amounts, dark, yellow 
  • dizziness made worse when you are standing 
  • weakness 
  • cramping in the arms and legs 
  • crying with few or no tears 
  • sleepy or irritable 
  • unwell 
  • headaches 
  • dry mouth, dry tongue; with thick saliva. 
  • in severe dehydration, these effects become more pronounced 

Symptoms of moderate to severe dehydration include: 

  • low blood pressure 
  • fainting 
  • severe muscle contractions in the arms, legs, stomach, and back 
  • convulsions 
  • a bloated stomach 
  • heart failure 
  • sunken fontanelle - soft spot on an infants head 
  • sunken dry eyes, with few or no tears 
  • skin loses its firmness and looks wrinkled 
  • lack of elasticity of the skin (when a bit of skin lifted up stays folded and takes a long time to go back to its normal position) 
  • rapid and deep breathing - faster than normal 
  • fast, weak pulse 

Mild to moderate dehydration in adults can be corrected by drinking liquids, especially those that effectively restore electrolytes.

Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Hydration

Being replete in water does not always mean a person is well-hydrated.  Electrolyte status must be examined, as well.  An electrolyte imbalance can occur if the body has either too much or too little water.  Over-watering and under-watering can dilute or concentrate electrolytes and cause errors in the electrical messaging for which they are responsible.  Occasionally, as might happen to those who marathon in the heat, medical intervention is necessary to save a life.  Little known is that electrolytes help to balance water levels, to move nutrients into cells, to remove wastes, to enhance nerve signals, to move and relax muscles, and to keep the brain and heart on target.  

The celebrated electrolytes, here paired by their cellular positioning, include calcium and sodium outside the cell, and magnesium and potassium inside the cell.  To move a muscle, as to pick up a pencil, calcium tells sodium to contract; to release the pencil, magnesium tells potassium to relax.  Recalling that the heart is a muscle, these actions control the familiar lub-dub of a heartbeat.  Too many lubs or too many dubs indicate rhythm problems that could result in a visit to the ER.  BodyBio’s E-Lyte contains the perfect balance of electrolytes that parallels that of the body.  People who work or exercise in the heat, who are ill with a fever, who suffer water loss through diarrhea or vomiting, who really don’t drink enough fluids despite saying they do, who have liver or kidney disorders, who are receiving treatments for cancer, or who are on a fad diet would be smart to include E-Lyte in their daily regimen.  The poor souls suffering from restless leg syndrome and/or leg cramps are very well-served by E-Lyte taken late in the day.  We all know the taste of table salt, but often do not realize that all mineral salts share the sensation, hence the ‘saltiness’ of E-Lyte.  And because sodium and potassium antagonize each other, there is no concern with sodium-sensitive hypertension issues.  

It is advisable not to increase the recommended use of E-Lyte without a doctor’s guidance.  It is possible to get too much of a good thing.  Off-the-shelf sports drinks contain too much sugar to help with electrolyte balance, so be careful to read labels.  With BodyBio’s E-Lyte, there are no worries.