Dehydration is essentially a lack of adequate fluid in the body that disturbs the balance of fluids and minerals. Treatment is aimed at restoring adequate fluid levels and preventing the complications of dehydration.
Treatment varies depending on how severe the dehydration is. In cases of mild dehydration, for example, drinking plenty of fluids such as water, semi-skimmed milk, dilute squash or fruit juice may resolve symptoms. In addition, a sweet drink can help to restore sugar levels and a salty snack can rectify salt loss.
Dehydration may cause particularly low levels of salts, minerals and sugars in infants and children, as their low body weight can mean these substance become diluted more easily. In these cases, giving the individual water may worsen the situation and squash or fruit juice should be given. Rehydration solutions are also available. These contain a mixture of potassium, salts and sugars and are designed to restore the body’s fluid balance. Several forms of these solutions are available, including ones that are specifically tailored to suit children. Beverages that contain caffeine and alcohol should be avoided in cases of dehydration.
In cases of severe hydration, hospitalization may be required. Young children and the elderly in particular, made need urgent treatment in cases of dehydration.
If an individual is admitted to hospital with dehydration, a tube may be passed through the patient’s nasal passage (nasogastric tube) to administer essential nutrients to the body. Alternatively, a saline drip may be used to deliver the nutrients intravenously. Each of these methods ensures a faster delivery of fluids and electrolytes than the rehydration drinks.
During management of severe dehydration, there needs to be continuous assessment of the status of the different electrolytes in the body in order to prevent the excess administration of any of the electrolytes.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc Further Reading