Dehydration, when it is severe, is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. It’s therefore wise to prevent dehydration before it progresses to this critical point. Avoiding this situation means knowing when fluid loss or inadequate fluid intake are most likely to occur, and taking steps to make certain that people get plenty of fluids during these high risk times.
Most people who eat adequate food and drink fluids each day won’t automatically get dehydrated unless other conditions are in place. Risky situations occur during illnesses where fluid loss from vomiting, diarrhea or extreme sweating is occurring, or simply when people are running very high fevers. Hot days also pose a risk because they increase fluid loss through higher levels of perspiration. Those who have any urinary conditions that create significant fluid loss might be at risk for dehydration at any time, and people participating in moderate to intense physical activity can also lose fluids quickly.
Sometimes two or more factors are combined. For instance, people could be strenuously exercising on a hot day. Alternately, they could have a urinary condition that causes higher fluid loss and also have a flu. On top of this, there are groups of people more vulnerable to dehydration and these include the chronically ill, young children, especially infants, and the very old.
Knowing the risk factors and risk groups, people can generally prevent dehydration with some common sense steps. The biggest of these is making sure to take in additional fluids during risky scenarios. The person with a stomach flu, for example, needs to begin fluid replacement, by taking small sips of liquid. Though water might be the first choice for some, it’s actually better to use a liquid that has a balance of electrolytes. Choices could include homemade oral replacement therapy liquid or drinks like Pedialyte®. Water tends to be better for older children and adults if diarrhea is present, since many other liquids will cause this to worsen.
To prevent dehydration means to address it before it occurs, and many people only think to drink if they feel thirsty. In “risky situations” this is not the best guide. On a hot day, this would mean drinking before getting too thirsty, perhaps about a cup (.24 liters) per waking hour. Exact amounts vary because of age, and size and specific guidelines are ideally obtained from doctors. Consider that the average intake of fluids should be about eight cups daily, and so increasing this by two to three more cups is likely useful. Greater increases may be needed to prevent dehydration when two or more risk factors are present.
If people don’t adequately prevent dehydration they might note signs like thirst, drier mouth, inability to go to the bathroom, dizziness, and confusion, or sunken fontanelles (soft-spots) on the infant's head. Should confusion be present, elevated temperature, collapse occur or vomiting ensue, people need emergency care. Once the body gets to a certain level of electrolyte imbalance, intravenous fluids are typically the best treatment.