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How to prevent and treat dehydration

Faheem Essop, ER24 Coordinator Specialised Medical Services Events, has treated many patients for dehydration in the course of his work. And this condition isn’t restricted to adults. Babies, children and elderly people are also at risk of dehydration.

Babies

Some of the causes of dehydration in newborns include problems with latching on, and difficulty swallowing and digesting milk. Clear indications are fewer wet diapers and tearless crying. Other signs Essop points out include sunken eyes, crankiness and drowsiness. This can usually be remedied by simply feeding your baby more often. However, it’s very important to check in with your healthcare provider to ensure their hydration levels quickly return to normal.

Older children

Dehydration in older children is usually caused by vomiting, diarrhoea, or both. It can also happen when children don’t want to drink because they have a sore throat. They may also get dehydrated in hot weather or when they’re very active. Children often won’t say they’re thirsty, or do not even know they’re becoming dehydrated. So Essop suggests looking out for symptoms like dry skin, tongue and lips.

Oral rehydration

Kids are naturally excitable – even more so during the holidays. This makes them distracted, especially when it comes to fundamental things like drinking fluids and staying hydrated. “The most important thing is to keep a young patient cool,” says Essop. He adds that over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions restore the necessary electrolytes to the body, which is crucial to get it functioning again. If none of these is available, Essop suggests a homemade solution that will do the same job: mixing half a teaspoon of salt,  6 level teaspoons of sugar and one litre of water. Pour into a glass or bottle for the child to drink.

“If the patient is not urinating, is pale and thin, has sunken eyes, cold hands and feet, is drowsy or cranky and isn’t taking any fluids, take them to the closest Mediclinic Emergency Centre or call 084 124 for real help, real fast,” he says.

Overhydration

Drinking too little may make you sick, but drinking too much fluid can also be bad for you. In fact, Essop says it can cause life-threatening problems. “Drinking too much water can decrease sodium in the blood to dangerously low levels,” he says. “This upsets the body’s electrolyte balances.”

This is more common in active people, especially those who participate in endurance activities. One of the best ways to determine if you’re drinking enough water is to monitor the colour of your urine. If it’s clear without any colour and the urine is passed more often than usual, this suggests you’re drinking too much water in a short time span.

Fortunately, overhydration is rare. However, it’s possible (though uncommon) for a child to overdo it when it comes to drinking fluids. This can lead to hyponatraemia, a serious imbalance of sodium in the system. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea and vomiting. If you suspect your child has overhydrated to the point of hyponatraemia, seek medical attention immediately. “Severe cases can cause seizures, coma and death,” says Essop.