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
- Excruciating thirst
- Dry mouth
- Dry lips
- Oliguria (less urine)
- Dark urine (dark yellow or brown urine color)
- Lethargy or tiredness (fatigue)
- Cold extremities (hands and feet)
- Sunken eyes
- Rapid heart rate
- Fast breathing
- Dry skin
- Unconsciousness (severe cases)
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- No tears when crying
- 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?
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
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 fluid intake. It is important to replace fluids and electrolytes lost during activities, to prevent dehydration which can lead to heat stroke and heat exhaustion (2).
There are certain factors that can exacerbate the possibility of a teen getting dehydrated.
Risk Factors Of Dehydration
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 renal 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) which might restore sodium balance.
- 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
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). However, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that adolescents and children in the United States between 12 and 19 only consumed a small quantity of 31 ounces of plain water daily.
- 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 and improve exercise performance.
- 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. In sports, particularly in hot environments and endurance activities, it’s important to keep water handy and drink it regularly to quench thirst, replenish lost fluids, and prevent dehydration and heat cramps.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).
3. Can dehydration affect a teenager’s academic performance and cognitive function?
Small-scale research highlights that dehydration may have significant adverse consequences for emotional and cognitive functioning and physical health. Consequently, poor cognitive function could negatively impact a teenager’s academic performance (13).
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.
Infographic: Effective Strategies To Prevent Dehydration In Teens
Dehydration is a common and potentially serious problem for teenagers, mainly due to not drinking enough fluids and certain lifestyle factors, like spending time in hot environments. However, there are strategies to successfully prevent teen dehydration and the difficulties that come with it. Check out the infographic below for some valuable suggestions.
- The body loses more water than it takes in during dehydration, particularly if suffering from some health conditions like diarrhea and vomiting.
- Dehydration is indicated by some symptoms like excruciating thirst, dizziness, dry skin or mouth, oliguria, nausea, sunken eyes, rapid heart rate and breathing, irritability, drowsiness, confusion, hypotension, and cramps.
- Timely intervention, such as medical testing, oral rehydration, and intravenous therapy, is advisable for persistent symptoms.
- To rehydrate the body and prevent complications such as electrolyte imbalance, low blood volume, and organ problems, fluids such as water, oral rehydration solutions, fresh juices, and cold foods like popsicles can be helpful.
- During dehydration, it is crucial to avoid physical exertion and the consumption of sugary and caffeinated drinks to prevent further water loss.
Signs of dehydration in children can include dry mouth, sunken eyes, and decreased urination. Learn more in this video.
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
12. Dehydration; Raising Children Network (Australia)
13. Study finds inadequate hydration among U.S. children; Harvard Health