Signs of Severe Dehydration

severe dehydration signs symptoms

Texas is well known for being hot, hot, hot. And in many cities, you have the humidity to contend with. All of this adds up to an excellent environment for becoming dehydrated if you aren’t careful.

The average June temperature for the state is 86 to 98 degrees, and in July, it can soar past 100 degrees. Dehydration can be an issue year-round but becomes more prevalent in the Texas summer temperatures, often beginning in May and extending until September.

Do you know the signs of severe dehydration? As you enjoy summer activities, keep an eye out for your friends and family to ensure everyone has a happy and healthy season.

Defining Dehydration

Dehydration means the fluid levels in your body drop so low that the organs and bodily functions, including circulation and respiration, cannot function normally. Your body loses more fluids than you take in.

Children tend to dehydrate quicker than adults because of their small size. Older adults might not feel thirsty or be as aware of the symptoms of dehydration. 

Also, older people are at a higher risk of dehydration because they normally have a lower volume of water in their bodies. Often, they take medications or suffer from conditions that increase their risk. Minor illnesses like bladder or lung infections can easily contribute to dehydration.

Family First ER offers emergency treatment for a wide range of illnesses, injuries, and infections. Learn more here.

The Causes of Dehydration

In summer, the most common cause of dehydration is heat and excessive sweating when the body is exposed to extreme temperatures. If you are active outdoors in hot weather or spend too much time in a sauna, you can quickly dehydrate if you don’t replenish your fluids regularly.

Cold, dry weather can cause dehydration, too. Moisture is lost to the dry air, especially at higher altitudes. 

If you have undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes, dehydration becomes a serious factor as it can cause frequent urination. Other illnesses can also steal water from your body, including frequent diarrhea and vomiting or a high fever. The higher the fever, the higher the risk of dehydration.

If you aren’t consuming enough liquid or drinking often enough, you aren’t keeping up with your fluid loss, resulting in dehydration. Some medications, like diuretics for high blood pressure, can create an environment favorable to dehydration through faster fluid loss.

Burns damage blood vessels and causes fluid to leak into the surrounding tissue. Even sunburn can create the conditions for dehydration on top of excessive sweating.

The Signs and Symptoms of Severe Dehydration

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency. Anyone showing the symptoms of severe dehydration needs immediate medical attention.

In adults, symptoms include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Darkly colored urine
  • Not urinating
  • Not sweating
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Poor skin turgor
  • Fever and chills

Typically, you don’t feel thirsty until your body is already dehydrated, so thirst isn’t always the first sign. If you have less body fluid, you won’t pee as much, and the urine will become darker as it becomes more concentrated. Eventually, you are not urinating at all. 

The same goes for sweating. Once your body runs out of water, you stop sweating. Since sweat is your body’s primary method of cooling itself, you become even hotter, perhaps running a fever. You may become dizzy or light-headed.

Turgor means how well your skin returns to its normal shape after pinching a section. One way to determine severe dehydration is to pinch an area of skin lightly. If it doesn’t return to normal immediately or the skin sticks together (tenting), you could be extremely dehydrated. 

You can also develop fever and, on the other extreme, chills when you become very dehydrated because you are no longer sweating to cool your body. 

Dehydration in Infants and Children

As mentioned above, children and babies dehydrate quicker than adults, so you must remain aware of your children when you are out in the heat.

When a baby or child becomes dehydrated, you observe the following:

  • No tears when crying
  • Signs of lethargy
  • Dry diapers for longer than usual, three hours or more
  • Cold, clammy limbs
  • Sunken soft spot on the top of the head (fontanel on an infant)
  • Irritability or listlessness
  • Dry mouth and tongue

If you see these signs, seek immediate medical attention. Be sure to keep children and babies hydrated in hot weather.

Dehydration in Pregnant Women

Pregnant women become dehydrated quickly as they carry more than their normal weight and require additional fluids for the fetus and amniotic fluid. Look for these signs and symptoms:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Sunken eyes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Dry mouth and skin
  • Poor skin turgor

Dehydration can lead to early labor or cause false labor (Braxton-Hicks contractions).

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Consequences of Untreated Severe Dehydration

If dehydration is left untreated, it can result in a variety of symptoms:

  • Seizures 
  • Brain damage
  • Kidney or heart damage
  • Low blood volume (hypovolemic shock)
  • Death 

The earlier you treat dehydration, the better the outcome. Of course, it’s always best if you don’t become dehydrated in the first place. 

The best things to drink when dehydrated are water, milk, soup, and natural fruit juices without added sugar. 

Avoid caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, black tea, green tea, and energy drinks. Avoid alcohol because it and caffeine are both diuretics. Avoid drinks with a lot of sugar, too.  

If you suspect that someone is experiencing severe dehydration, a cold, wet compress on the face can help. If the person’s temperature exceeds 103F, take them to the emergency room where they can receive IV fluids, which are absorbed more quickly than drinking fluids. 

IV fluids are often saline and contain water, sodium, and other electrolytes. 

See your doctor if you have diarrhea for longer than 24 hours, are irritable, disoriented, sleepier and less active than usual, or can’t keep fluids down. Also, see a doctor if you have black or bloody stool.

Family First ER Provides Care for Severe Dehydration

Understanding the signs and symptoms of severe dehydration can save someone’s life. It’s critical to know the signs, how to help, and the location of the nearest medical center.

Family First ER is staffed with medical professionals that can take care of most medical emergencies. Our doctors and nurses are fully prepared to handle severe dehydration and other types of medical emergencies with state-of-the-art medical technology.

Contact us today to learn more about our emergency services for people suffering from the Texas heat.