Dehydration

Dehydration means your body loses more fluids than you take in. If it isn't treated it can get worse and become a serious problem.

Important

Babies, children and the elderly are more at risk of dehydration.

Check if you're dehydrated

Symptoms of dehydration in adults and children include:

  • feeling thirsty
  • dark yellow and strong smelling pee
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • feeling tired
  • dry mouth, lips and eyes
  • peeing little, and fewer than 4 times a day

Dehydration can happen more easily if you have:

  • diabetes
  • vomiting or diarrhoea
  • been in the sun too long (heatstroke)
  • drunk too much alcohol
  • sweated too much after exercising
  • a high temperature of 38C or more
  • been taking medicines that make you pee more (diuretics)

How you can reduce the risk of dehydration

Media last reviewed: 18/07/2017

Media review due: 18/07/2020

Drink fluids when you feel any dehydration symptoms. Keep taking small sips and gradually drink more if you can.

You can use a spoon to make it easier for your child to swallow the fluids.

You should drink enough during the day so that your pee is a pale clear colour.

Drink when there is a higher risk of dehydrating. For example, if you’re vomiting, sweating or you have diarrhoea.

Carers: making sure someone drinks enough

Sometimes people you care for don't have a sense of how much they're drinking.

To help them:

  • make sure they drink during mealtimes
  • make drinking a social thing, like "having a cup of tea"
  • offer them food with a high water content – for example, soups, ice cream or jellies, or fruits like melon

A pharmacist can help with dehydration

If you're being sick or have diarrhoea and are losing too much fluid, you need to put back the sugar, salts and minerals that your body has lost.

Your pharmacist can recommend oral rehydration sachets. These are powders that you mix with water and then drink.

Ask your pharmacist which ones are right for you or your child.

See a GP if:

  • your symptoms don't improve with treatment

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • you're feeling unusually tired
  • you're confused and disorientated
  • any dizziness when you stand up doesn't go away
  • you haven’t peed for 8 hours
  • your pulse is weak or rapid
  • you have fits (seizures)

These can be signs of serious dehydration which need urgent treatment.

Under-5s with dehydration

The under-5s should get plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

It's quite common for young children to become dehydrated. It can be serious if it's not dealt with quickly.

Take your baby or child to the GP urgently or go to A&E if they:

  • seem drowsy
  • breathe fast
  • have few or no tears when they cry
  • have a soft spot on their head that sinks inwards (sunken fontanelle)
  • have a dry mouth
  • have dark-yellow pee
  • have cold and blotchy-looking hands and feet

Once the dehydration has been treated your child will need to maintain their fluid levels.

GPs usually advise:

Do

  • carry on breastfeeding or using formula, try to give small amounts more often than usual
  • for babies on formula or solid foods – give them small sips of extra water
  • give small children their usual diet
  • give regular small sips of rehydration solution to replace lost fluids, salts and sugars – ask your pharmacist to recommend one

Don't

  • do not make formula weaker
  • do not give young children fruit juice or fizzy drinks, it makes things like diarrhoea or vomiting worse

Page last reviewed: 02/06/2017
Next review due: 02/06/2020

Call 111

If you can't speak to your GP and don't know what to do next.