Dangers of dehydration

Vomiting, diarrhea, fever — any combination of these dreaded ailments can literally suck the life out of you.

Things can quickly go from bad to worse when dehydration sets in. Suddenly, what seemed like a garden-variety stomach bug — or a bad order of oysters — could turn life-threatening.

Untreated, severe dehydration may lead to seizures, permanent brain damage or even death, according to the National Institutes of Health. The body sends signals if fluids are not replaced rapidly enough or if fluids can’t be retained because of severe vomiting or diarrhea.

When you simply can’t keep anything down, watch for these signs of serious dehydration:

●    Dry or sticky mouth
●    Lethargy, confusion or dizziness
●    Decreased urine output, or dark yellow urine
●    Sunken eyes, and crying without tears  
●    Sunken soft spot on the top of an infant’s head

Babies, senior citizens and pregnant women are most at risk for dehydration, according to Alison Tucker, M.D., family medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates – St. Matthews.

“Dehydration can happen very quickly, as well as renal failure. You can have an electrolyte imbalance and need to replenish the salts and the fluids,” Dr. Tucker said, explaining that patients whose symptoms have been going on for several hours may need to “tank up” with intravenous (IV) treatment at an emergency room.

IV fluids generally are not available at a primary care or immediate care center, which is why a person in this condition would need to go to an emergency room, according to Dr. Tucker.

“The main thing is, they need to be seen. If it’s really serious, they’ve got the hospital there for further care,” she said.

Dehydration can progress rapidly in little ones, because they weigh less and their bodies process water and electrolytes more quickly, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dry diapers for several hours can signal a problem.

To stay safe, begin drinking fluids as soon as vomiting, diarrhea and fever start. Boosting fluids is usually enough to treat mild dehydration. Small sips or ice chips are best if you feel nauseous, and a teaspoon or syringe can be helpful when rehydrating an infant or a child. Electrolyte solutions or freezer pops also can work wonders. Steer clear of sports drinks or juices that contain a lot of sugar and can worsen diarrhea.

Find your closest Norton Healthcare emergency department.

–Mickey Gramig