22 Common Signs And Symptoms Of Dehydration In Teens

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Gastrointestinal illnesses are a common cause of dehydration in teens. This is a condition when the amount of water lost from our body is more than water intake (1). Mild dehydration may not be a problem. But, severe dehydration can affect normal physiological function in our body. Diarrhea, vomiting, and excess sweating can cause water loss. It is important to rehydrate the teen when they are losing water from the body to avoid dehydration. However, moderate to severe dehydration may require medical care and intravenous (IV) fluids to maintain the hydration status.

Read on to know the reasons, symptoms, signs, tests, and treatment for dehydration in teens and tips to prevent it.

Signs And Symptoms Of Dehydration In Teens

Muscle cramps are a sign of dehydration in teenagers

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The signs and symptoms associated with dehydration may include (2) (3):

  1. Excruciating thirst
  2. Dizziness
  3. Dry mouth
  4. Dry lips
  5. Oliguria (less urine)
  6. Dark urine (dark yellow or brown color)
  7. Nausea
  8. Fever
  9. Headache
  10. Lethargy or tiredness
  11. Cold extremities (hands and feet)
  12. Sunken eyes
  13. Rapid heart rate
  14. Fast breathing
  15. Irritability
  16. Drowsiness
  17. Confusion
  18. Dry skin
  19. Unconsciousness (severe cases)
  20. Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  21. No tears when crying
  22. Muscle cramps

Thirst indicates the body’s need for fluids and is often an early sign of dehydration. If left untreated, dehydration may affect organ functions such as kidney filtration, brain functions, etc.

When To Call The Doctor?          

If your teen is unable to eat or drink, consult a doctor.

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Teenagers with mild dehydration may get better after drinking sufficient amounts of water. However, severe dehydration with dizziness, oliguria, or other symptoms may require hospitalization.

If your teen has severe vomiting and diarrhea, then you may seek medical care before it leads to dehydration. If your child is unable to eat or drink, then seek medical attention even if they have mild dehydration.

Causes Of Dehydration In Teens

Working out in heat may lead to dehydration in teens

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Any condition that causes fluid loss from the body can result in dehydration if the lost water is not replenished on time. The following are the common causes for fluid loss and dehydration.

  • Physiological functions of the body, such as sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and polyuria (excess urination).
  • Gastroenteritis, which is the inflammation of the digestive tract caused by stomach viruses, such as rotavirus or norovirus, and bacteria. These stomach bugs may cause diarrhea and vomiting that result in fluid and electrolyte loss from the body. Hesitation to eat or drink during gastrointestinal illness may increase the risk for severe dehydration (4).
  • Fever can cause dehydration due to sweating, and sore throat may lead to dehydration from low water intake due to swallowing difficulties.
  • Sports and exercise in hot climates could result in dehydration due to sweating, especially if your teen has poor water intake. It is important to replace fluids and electrolytes lost during activities, to prevent dehydration (2).

There are certain factors that can exacerbate the possibility of a teen getting dehydrated.

Risk Factors Of Dehydration

High fever may worsen dehydration in teens

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There is an increased risk of dehydration among teens experiencing the following conditions or situations (5).

  • Diarrhea and vomiting for more than a day
  • High fever
  • Major burn injuries
  • Kidney problems
  • Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes
  • Athletic activities and playing a lot of sport
  • Poor water intake in a hot and humid climate
  • Certain medications

Diagnosis Of Dehydration In Teens

Physical examination helps in identifying dehydration. Abnormal skin turgor (wrinkling of the skin due to dehydration), low blood pressure, and abnormal patterns of breathing are important but late signs of dehydration. At the stage where breathing and blood pressure is affected, then urgent hospital care is needed.

The following tests are usually ordered if your teen has dehydration (6).

  • Blood tests to determine the amount of electrolyte loss and kidney function
  • Urine gravity tests

Your teen’s doctor may order additional examination based on symptoms.

Treating Dehydration In Teenagers

Treatment of dehydration involves the replacement of lost electrolytes and fluids, known as rehydration therapy. The following are a couple of ways in which dehydration in teens is treated.

  • Mild dehydration is often treated with oral fluids such as oral rehydration solution (ORS).
  • Intravenous (IV) therapy is required for severe cases. The quantity of intravenous fluids and electrolytes is calculated based on the loss and requirement. IV fluid administration is done until your teen is able to take the required amount of oral fluids.

Even if your child is given oral rehydration therapy (ORT), it may not be sufficient in the case of severe diarrhea or vomiting. So the doctor may keep an eye on the child’s hydration status to initiate the rehydration process with IV fluids if needed (7).

Home Remedies For Dehydration Symptoms In Teens

Pedialyte may help restore lost fluids in teens

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You may try some home methods of hydration if your teen has vomiting or diarrhea before they become dehydrated. Mild dehydration can be managed with the intake of more fluids.

  • Water helps restore the lost fluids, but not lost electrolytes. Oral rehydration solutions can be given to replace fluids and electrolytes (body salts). Hydralyte, Pedialyte, Gastrolyte, and Repalyte are a few examples of oral rehydration solutions. You may purchase them from a local pharmacy and give it to your teen as per doctors’ recommendations (8).
  • If your teen refuses to drink plain water, then you may give them diluted apple juice, diluted lemonade, popsicles, and icy chips, which are all sources of fluids.
  • If the teen is experiencing excessive fluid loss, then they should not consume caffeinated drinks, concentrated fruit juices, sports or energy drinks, and sugary drinks. These beverages are not recommended for rehydration therapies. Caffeine may cause water loss due to its diuretic effects and may worsen dehydration (2).

Complications Of Dehydration In Teens

If rehydration is not achieved on time, severe dehydration may result in the following complications (8).

  • Cardiac injury
  • Kidney injury and kidney failure
  • Seizures due to electrolyte imbalance
  • Hypovolemic shock due to low volume of blood

Less amount of fluid in the blood could result in hypotension (low blood pressure) and impact oxygen supply to the tissues, known as hypovolemic shock. This is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated on time.

Tips To Prevent Dehydration In Teens

The following steps may help prevent dehydration in teens.

  • Drinking sufficient water is the best way to prevent dehydration. You may ask your teen to consume more water on hot days and if they sweat a lot.
  • Daily intake of two liters or eight to ten glasses of water is recommended for anyone above 13 years of age (9).
  • Drinking water before and after, as well as at regular intervals during a sports activity can help your teen to replace the fluid loss from sweat.
  • If you live in a hot or humid environment, then doing sports and exercise in the morning or evening hours may help reduce the risk of dehydration.
  • If your teen is active in sports, then the best rehydrating fluids are water and oral rehydration solutions. Sports drinks are not recommended to avoid dehydration since most of them have a high sugar content that worsens dehydration. The rule in sports, especially in warm climates and endurance sports, is to alway have water available and to drink to thirst. The athlete can drink when thirsty as not enough fluids are a problem and causes dehydration, but forcing a certain amount of fluids in a short period of time can also cause problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does Gatorade hydrate better than water?

Gatorade is a sports drink that contains electrolytes with sugar. It may hydrate well and replenish the lost electrolytes. However, it may have excess added sugars and other additives. Water is a better alternative for staying hydrated and quenching thirst (10).

2. How often should a teenager drink water while playing sports or exercising?

When exercising or playing sports, teenagers should drink around 34 to 50 ounces of water per hour (11).

If your teen has abnormal skin turgidity, low blood pressure, or irregular breathing patterns, these signs may indicate dehydration in teens. Dehydration can be caused by lack of water consumption, an upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhea, fever, excessive sweating, and other conditions. While moderate cases can be treated with oral rehydration solutions, fruit juice, or ice chips, severe cases may necessitate hospitalization and IV treatment. The easiest approach to avoid dehydration is staying hydrated and restoring water loss by appropriate fluid consumption.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Dehydration; C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital; Michigan Medicine
2. Dehydration; The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)
3. Dehydration; HealthDirect; Government of Australia
4. Viral gastroenteritis; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
5. Dehydration; The New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities; The Department of Human Services
6. Amy Canavan,et al.; Diagnosis and Management of Dehydration in Children; The American Academy of Family Physicians
7. Dehydration; The University of Rochester Medical Center
8. Dehydration; The American Academy of Family Physicians
9. Choose Water as a Drink; Healthykids; The NSW Ministry of Health
10. Rehydrate! Water, Coconut Water or Sports Drinks?; Northshore University Healthsystem
11. Choose Water for Healthy Hydration; Healthy Children; AAP
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Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made...
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Dr. Wayne Hough

(MBChB, MMed, FC Paeds)
Dr. Wayne Hough is a pediatrician currently based in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town in South Africa. He got his medical degree from the University of Stellenbosch. He then worked at the Tygerberg Children's Hospital before completing his pediatric training and qualification from the South African College of Medicine. Dr. Hough also holds a MMed degree in pediatrics from...
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