What to Do if You’re Severely Dehydrated

Nick Rosen, MD
Medically reviewed by Nick Rosen, MDJuly 7th, 2021

What to Do if You’re Severely Dehydrated

You’ve probably heard the old adage that most of your body is made up of water. But what happens when it’s not? When you lose too much water from your system due to heat exposure, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or other illnesses and conditions, it can cause further serious problems.

Mild Dehydration

Dehydration can present symptoms like:

  • Decreased urine output
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Few or no tears
  • Headache
  • Increased thirst
  • Low volume of urine and darker color than normal
  • Tiredness or sleepiness

For mild dehydration, you can often treat the condition at home.

If the dehydration is due to vomiting, start by sipping small amounts of water. Drinking too fast can cause you to bring it all back up again, so go slowly to avoid another trip to the bathroom. You can also try sucking on ice chips or popsicles.

In addition to losing water, dehydration depletes the body of electrolytes. For this reason, it’s a good idea to drink something with carbohydrates and electrolytes rather than just plain water, as long as it is well tolerated. Most sports drinks are a good choice, as well as options like Pedialyte, which are made specifically for dehydration. We also have a recipe for a homemade electrolyte drink made from items you may already have in your pantry. Many sports drinks contain a large amount of sugar; mix your sports drink with water in a 50/50 mix.

If the dehydration is due to heat exposure, you’ll want to do everything you can to help yourself (or your patient) cool down. This includes removing any unnecessary layers of clothing, getting to an air-conditioned area, or if no air conditioning is available, try lukewarm mist from a spray bottle, or using a wet towel to induce evaporation cooling. Avoid cooling down too quickly with methods like ice packs or ice-cold water as these can actually cause further dehydration.

For infants or babies, do not administer electrolyte drinks or fruit juices unless recommended to do so by a qualified medical practitioner.

Stick to breast milk or formula, and seek medical help if you don’t see improvement.

Severe Dehydration

If left unchecked, severe dehydration can cause the following:

  • Cold and blotchy hands and feet
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness that affects the ability to stand or walk normally
  • Drops in blood pressure when standing up after lying down
  • Severely decreased urine output with deep yellow or amber color or no urine at all
  • Fever
  • Lethargy, confusion, or coma
  • Poor skin elasticity (skin slowly returns to its normal position when pinched)
  • Rapid resting heart rate
  • Seizure
  • Shock

At this point, you’ll need to seek medical intervention. One of the best options is to call

DispatchHealth to come to the rescue. Their emergency care providers are able to evaluate patients for dehydration and administer IV fluids to more rapidly hydrate patients in a safe and beneficial way. And best of all, there’s no rush to the emergency room, no waiting room and no hassle. The team will come to you, wherever you happen to be, so you can relax on the couch while you wait to be seen.

The Importance of Staying Hydrated

Aside from helping you avoid the dangerous effects of dehydration, staying hydrated benefits you in a number of different ways. Being well-hydrated can:

  • Regulate your body temperature
  • Keep your cells nourished
  • Support proper organ function
  • Protect you against infections
  • Reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, bladder cancer, and colorectal cancer
  • Help you avoid headaches (and help relieve them)
  • Keep your joints lubricated
  • Relieve constipation
  • Increase your metabolism
  • Help you lose weight
  • Lower your chances of developing kidney stones
  • Prevent hangovers
  • Enhance the quality of your sleep
  • Make you feel more energized
  • Improve your mental function
  • Brighten your mood

The Connection Between Aging & Dehydration

It’s important for everyone to drink enough water, but staying hydrated can be even more critical among older adults. That’s because when an older person becomes dehydrated, he or she can face an especially high risk of kidney problems and other issues.

Unfortunately, it often becomes increasingly difficult to remain hydrated as we grow older. There are many reasons for this:

  • Loss of the sense of thirst – When our bodies need water, how do they communicate that to our brains? We feel thirsty. However, as we age, our thirst response becomes progressively weaker. As such, older people might be dehydrated and not even know it.
  • Impaired kidney function – It’s normal for kidney function to go downhill over the years. As we age, our kidneys have more and more trouble removing toxins from our blood, and they start producing less-concentrated urine. The result of this is that older adults end up losing more water while urinating, which can in turn lead to dehydration.
  • Fewer water reserves – When compared to their younger counterparts, older bodies contain significantly less water. Because older people don’t have as much stored water to rely upon in the event that they don’t drink enough, it’s easier for them to become dehydrated.
  • Increased reliance on medication – Many adults start encountering more and more health conditions as they advance in age. Certain conditions in and of themselves can cause seniors to lose additional water through urination. For example, diabetes and kidney disease can both result in fluid loss. But what’s worse is that the medications used to treat these conditions can lead to even more water output through urination. Blood pressure medication, for instance, commonly causes an increase in urination.
  • Mobility issues – It’s not uncommon for older individuals to have at least some degree of mobility limitation. Whether they’re confined to a wheelchair or simply have trouble climbing the stairs from the family room to the kitchen, it can be increasingly harder for them to independently access the drinking water they need. And if they’re worried about not being able to make it to the bathroom on time, they might end up restricting their fluid intake so as to avoid a stressful or embarrassing situation.

So, what can you do to ensure that you remain healthy and hydrated as you get older? To start with, make it a point to drink water and other beverages throughout the day (but not diuretics like tea and coffee). If you’ve noticed that you haven’t felt as thirsty as you did when you were younger, you may want to set an alarm on your phone reminding you to have a drink or invest in a water bottle that has times marked along the side. You don’t need to just rely on liquids, either—if you can’t bear to drink anymore, try eating foods that contain high amounts of water, such as cucumbers and watermelon.

If you have an older loved one who’s having trouble staying hydrated, make it a point to periodically remind them to drink. If mobility issues are keeping them in one place, make sure that they always have access to water. For example, if your dad spends most of the day in his favorite chair, keep a glass of water on a nearby end table so that it’s within easy reach whenever he starts feeling a little parched.

Request a Visit From DispatchHealth

The next time you experience dehydration, whether due to heat, illness, or exhaustion, get a house call from a medical team with the knowledge and experience to treat you in the comfort of your own home: DispatchHealth.

Request a visit today via phone, mobile app, or our website. * Please note: For life-threatening and time-sensitive injuries and illnesses, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. DispatchHealth shouldn’t be used in a life-threatening emergency and doesn’t replace a primary care provider.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/symptoms-of-dehydration-in-elderly
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-of-water
  3. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/the-importance-of-hydration/
  4. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/dehydration.html?WT.ac=
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354092
  6. https://www.parentgiving.com/elder-care/dehydration-a-hidden-risk-to-the-elderly/
  7. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/qa/how-can-a-dehydrated-person-cool-off
The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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