Editor’s Note: This is a special contribution from longtime BDS community member, Donna.
What is Dehydration? Its Cause and Solutions
Dehydration happens when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don’t or can’t replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated.
In the past 5 months, two family members have become dehydrated, one older person and one 20 month old. The first was from an infected kidney stone; the baby’s dehydration happened because of vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone may become dehydrated, but the condition is especially dangerous for babies, young children and older adults.
The most common cause of dehydration in babies and young children is severe diarrhea and vomiting. Because of their small size and low body weight dehydration can happen quickly. In the beginning it can easily go unnoticed, so it’s important to learn how to recognize the symptoms and know when and how to treat this condition, and how to avoid it in the first place if possible.
Always encourage children to drink water, especially when they’re playing outside. Make it easily available.
One key factor in maintaining hydration is keeping the proper balance of electrolytes. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes. Nausea and vomiting can deplete electrolytes quickly. Without them in proper balance, you can become dehydrated.
It is a good idea to keep a bottle or two of Pedialyte or the ingredients to make your own electrolyte solution, available in your home at all times (Recipe to follow). This drink is made to replace lost electrolytes in children. It comes in flavors and unlike the Pedialyte of the past, which tasted very salty, the newer version is more palatable.
People often think that Pedialyte and Gatorade are interchangeable. Here is what I discovered. The Pedialyte website says that the difference between Pedialyte and sports drinks is that sports drinks are ‘too high’ in carbohydrates and ‘too low’ in sodium for children generally. These are important considerations when treating dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea in infants and children.
For athletes, however, that difference can make the difference. With lower carbohydrates and higher sodium, athletes could experience different results with Pedialyte than they do with Gatorade. So keeping both products on hand as part of your medical preparedness may be essential.
Here are two electrolyte replacement recipes you can make at home and you don’t have to be concerned about artificial colors and flavors. Don’t worry about electrolyte replacement as long as you or your child are eating food and drinking water.
Strawberry Smoothie Electrolyte Recipe (Gatorade replacement for adults)
- 3 cups of coconut water (I have read that coconut water is similar in structure used in IV fluid replacement therapy).
- 1 cup of strawberries
- 1 cup of cold water
- 1 cup of ice
- 1/8 tsp. of salt
- 2 tablespoons of natural sugar or honey
Directions: Place all the ingredients into blender at the same time and blend until all the ingredients are smooth. Chill and serve cold.
A natural electrolyte Pedialyte drink alternative
It’s easy to make a natural electrolyte drink at home—using ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen—without the artificial ingredients that are in Pedialyte.
I like that this recipe is 100% in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recipe and guidelines for oral rehydration salts (ORS).
DIY Natural Pedialyte Ingredients Recipe (for babies and children)
- 6 teaspoons sugar (remember that children under 12 months of age should not have honey, so no substitutions)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 liter (or 4.2 cups) of filtered drinking water
If you’ve got organic sugar and natural sea salt, that’s all the better. Sea salt contains minerals. Mix all the ingredients in a clean jar. Refrigerate.
Double check and make sure you’re using the precise amounts of each ingredient. Too much sugar can make diarrhea symptoms worse, and too much salt can also be harmful.
Encourage a dehydrated child to drink as much of this Pedialyte alternative as possible.
- Children under age 2 need a minimum of 1/2 cup of this drink after each bout of diarrhea.
- Children over age 2 need a minimum of 1 cup of this drink after each bout of diarrhea.
If you need to, you can spoon feed your child this solution.
This drink will replenish your child with the liquid and nutrients that are lost during diarrhea. Diarrhea or loose stools normally last for fewer than four days.
Trips to the beach or swimming pool can create the illusion of hydration. After all, our bodies are in the water. The water spray and breezes are cooling to our skin. We feel exhilarated and drinking water is probably not on our mind. But this is a prime time to be aware that we need to drink water.
Exercise, the hot rays of the sun and an extended time outside all need to be factored in to our fluid intake. Hydrate well before taking that long walk on the beach. If you will be gone for more than an hour take some water along.
Older adults naturally have a lower volume of water in their bodies, and may have conditions or take medications that increase the risk of dehydration. Older people aren’t able to conserve water as well as they used to when younger. The sense of thirst becomes less acute and the body’s ability to respond to changes in temperature is diminished.
This means that even seemingly minor illnesses, such as infections affecting the lungs or bladder, can result in dehydration in older adults. Of course this condition can happen in any age group simply by not consuming an adequate amount of water, especially during hot summer months or if there is an inadequate fluid intake during prolonged exercise.
It also happens because the body is losing fluids quicker than they are being replaced. This can happen due to vomiting and diarrhea but also in exercise. Small sips of water taken at frequent, regular intervals can prevent dehydration in these situations.
You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, but severe dehydration needs immediate medical treatment. Treat it as early as possible.
Adequate hydration should be a priority consideration in times of crisis whether you are bugging out or staying put. In either case having sufficient fluids, purification, and storage strategies in place is essential.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Thirst isn’t always a reliable early indicator of the body’s need for water. Many people, particularly older people, don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. That’s why it’s important to increase water intake during hot weather or when you’re ill.
The signs and symptoms of dehydration also may differ by age.
Infant or young child
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No tears when crying
- No wet diapers for three hours
- Sunken eyes, cheeks
- Sunken soft spot on top of skull
- Listlessness or irritability
- Extreme thirst
- Less frequent urination
- Dark-colored urine
- Foul smelling urine
- Mental Confusion
People with Chronic or Acute Illnesses
- Kidney disease
- Forgetfulness (forgetting to drink or eat) If you are the caregiver for an older person make sure to keep track of the amount of fluid ingested daily. Setting a schedule for drinking can be a useful reminder. Keep a list of intake and if needed of output. It’s often easy to get busy or preoccupied and forget to drink so sometimes even otherwise healthy individuals need a reminder to drink water.
- Sore throat or bronchitis make it more painful and difficult to drink, making one more susceptible to dehydration.
The Mayo Clinic Gives These Guidelines:
Call your family doctor if you or a loved one:
- Has had diarrhea for 24 hours or more, (my comment: Call even on a weekend when doctor’s offices are closed. There should always be an on-call doctor available to answer questions or make recommendations to take care of the situation).
- Is irritable or disoriented
- Is much sleepier or less active than usual
- Can’t keep down fluids
- Has bloody or black stool
Water is to Your Body as Oil is to your Car Engine
Our bodies are made up of about 60% water, 75 % of our muscles and 85% of our brains; every system depends on water. It’s like oil to a machine. People often think that when they get a little shaky they should eat something but studies have shown that the body is often just begging for water.
The next time you get shaky or feel fuzzy-brained try drinking a glass of cool water and see if things clear up fairly quickly. Proper hydration is important for healthy skin, hair, and nails, as well as controlling body temperature, heart rate, kidney function and blood pressure.
Water is needed for good digestion and elimination. It is necessary for absorption of vitamins and nutrients from our food. It is a critical part of detoxifying the liver and kidneys and carrying away the toxins that often accumulate and make us ill. If your urine becomes cloudy or foul-smelling, start drinking, a lot. So drinking water is not just a good thing to do, it’s indispensable if we want to be as healthy as we can be.
“It’s definitely essential,” says Jim White, registered dietitian and personal trainer in Virginia Beach, Va., and American Dietetic Association spokesman.
“What we’re finding is so many people are deficient,” he notes. “We’re seeing a huge decrease in athletic performance and an increase in fatigue that’s caused by the lack of hydration. Alcohol is a huge dehydrator.”
One key factor in maintaining hydration is keeping the proper balance of electrolytes. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes. Without them in proper balance, you can become dehydrated.
A Few Fun Ways to Drink More Water
Some people have a hard time drinking water straight up. If that is your challenge try adding lemon, lime or other citrus to your pure water. Adding raspberries or strawberries to plain sparkling water may be the answer for you. Making a water/fruit/veggie infusion may be just what the doctor ordered!
There are a large variety of drink infusers on the market, from infusion pitchers to double-walled insulated fruit infuser sport water bottles and small single serving add-in infusers.
Cucumber and mint in an infuser water bottle is so light and refreshing.
Infusion Water Bottle
Infusion Water Pitcher
If you drink highly sugared drinks in the quantities of water needed for good hydration you will quickly be consuming a dangerous amount of sugar and sugar stresses every body system. Normally the body craves pure water.
Make an iced herbal tea and have it handy in your refrigerator, or bring it along when you take a road trip by using a small ice chest or an insulated sports water bottle. Bring along several. For Christmas, I bought several red quart size double walled, insulated bottles for my kids and their spouses. They keep water ice cold even if you leave it in the hot closed car for 4 or 5 hours!
Making water drinking options available ahead of the time they are needed is key to following through with the goal of higher water intake.
Sometimes we awaken with a headache or we develop one during the afternoon. Don’t reach for the pain reliever; reach for a long tall glass of water instead. Dehydration is a major cause of headache; you may be surprised at how quickly a glass of water brings on clearer thinking as well as headache relief.
Are you hungry and it is nowhere near meal time? Often that feeling of hunger is a trigger that our bodies need water.
Many fruits are great sources of water. Watermelon is 90% water. Grapefruits, oranges, grapes and melons like cantaloupe and honeydew supply a wonderful sweet spring of water that most everyone enjoys. Just be careful to limit fruits for diabetics.
Although not as obvious, many vegetables provide a good amount of water. Cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, some lettuces, red, orange and yellow peppers are a few of them (green peppers are more likely to trigger indigestion because they are not ripe) . So there you go! Just toss a salad together and increase your hydration!
Making Your Own Water Pouches
This is a great way to store individual servings for mid-term use (at least five years)!
This brings us to storing an emergency water supply. Although long-term water storage is not the focus of this article I thought it would be a good time to share a hack we developed through experimentation about 5 years ago. It is not meant to replace various long term water storage methods.
As our family was revamping, updating and streamlining our food and water preparedness supplies, I wanted to have a quick, easy and portable short-term water supply. Perhaps something that would travel well in a vehicle, backpack or 72 hour kit.
What we came up with was inexpensive and it has been more durable than expected.
If you have ever considered purchasing the Datrex individual serving water pouches here are some good things to compare before you make the purchase. Datrex is one of the more popular single use water storage options.
Datrex: 4 oz. water per pouch.
Hack: 15-20 oz. water per pouch. Cost: a few cents per pouch.
It’s Easy to Make These DIY Water Pouches
You can use either 5 or 7 mil Mylar bags. The size bag I use is 12”x13”. I experimented with pouch sizing and determined that dividing the bag equally into 3 sections approximately 4” x 13” was best for ease of filling and sealing.
NOTE: In case you are concerned about using Mylar which is a PET Polyethylene terephthalate, it has been used for many years with no adverse effects to health and has become a material of choice for bottling beverages, such as mineral water and carbonated soft drinks. It also is used for microwave food trays and food packaging films. It has been tested many times through the years and is FDA approved.
I was fortunate enough to have a commercial impulse sealer (not mine) that was being stored at my home and I was free to use it. A machine like that could set you back about $850.00. During the time we stored it, we sealed hundreds of pounds of food. Friends came and used this gorgeous machine. When the water idea came up my husband and I experimented till we figured things out, then we sealed for hours.
There are sealers on the market starting at about $50 and up, but I have not used them so can’t comment with any first -hand knowledge. I have heard of people using hair straightening irons.
The sealing portion of a Seal-a-Meal or Food Saver device would probably be too small to work on the longer end of the Mylar pouch. I don’t know if they make an extra-large model. The liquid might also be problematic.
BUT, not to worry, there is an easy, inexpensive alternative. You can use your iron as the sealer. It won’t hurt the appliance. Just make sure it is set to the high setting, but since there can be variable temperatures between irons you can experiment a few time to see what really works for you.
Do a few pouches at first then test the seal by being a little rough, toss one around, drop it on the floor, even squeeze it (outside) to see how much it will take. The seal should be quite sturdy. This is just a test to see if your iron is sealing as it should. Avoid any kinks or bubbles in the seal. Remember you can cut off the sealed top, just below the seal, empty some of the water, fill, dry the lip and reseal.
How to Seal
Simply heat-seal the open sides except the tops. We did all of the pouches first, then filled them with water but only to the point that we could fold the top slightly over a hard surface and align it to seal without spillage. It works well if you can place the very top of the bag over the edge of a hard surface about ½”, allowing the water-filled part to hang down.
If you get water at the sealing edge just wipe it off inside and out with a clean cloth making sure it is dried completely. Fold it over the edge of an old table, a 2×4 etc. You may want to use a thin kitchen towel between the old tabletop and the iron.
Run the hot iron over ½” of the Mylar top until it is sealed well over the entire length of it. Here is where your prior testing comes in handy. Hang in there! You’ll soon get into the rhythm. Having another person to help makes it a little easier.
NOTE: If you plan to do a lot of these it’s faster to work with a partner in a “FILL and SEAL” assembly line style. You can fill from a pitcher or faucet, but you’ll need to create a way for the “waiting-to-be-sealed pouch” to stand up and not spill over. We used a straight sided glass water pitcher but use your creativity and use whatever you have available to make it work. It was actually a lot of fun, mistakes and all.
Sizes and Purity
We found that we liked the 15-20 oz. size the best. We tried to make the smaller pouches but it was difficult to make the very small 4 oz. pouch because the water kept spilling out when we used the impulse sealer and who drinks ½ cup of water anyway? It seemed much too small.
We like the idea of knowing that the water we sealed up was pure and did not contain “preservatives” or impurities. We didn’t even add a few drops of bleach because we didn’t know if that was acceptable with Mylar. We opened a pouch at the 2 year mark and had it tested for purity then again at the 3 year mark.
There was no change year either. Each year remained the same as the baseline testing done at the time of filling. We skipped the 4 year test. At the 5th year test the water remained pure. The Datrex has an expiration date of 5 years so we figured that would probably be our expiration date on the DIY.
We’ll test again next year but it was reassuring to know that our little project produced consistently pure drinkable water for 5 years and counting.
Notice the small notch at the upper right corner where the arrow is pointing. This is the tear line. When the pouch is held upright there is room to make the tear without spillage. We didn’t do this to all of the pouches as we thought it might compromise the integrity of the seal.
So far that hasn’t happened but I should take a couple of pouches in my backpack on an all-day foraging hunt and see one remains well sealed. The other will be used! Seven mil Mylar is pretty rugged so I think it will remain intact.
Final Thoughts on Preventing Dyhydration
- Be aware of the signs of dehydration and act immediately if these signs develop.
- Pay close attention to how you are feeling and how long it has been since you have had a drink of water. The general theory is to drink half of your weight in ounces per day, ie: If your weight is100 pounds, drink 50 Oz. of water per day. But I have refrained from saying drink “X” ounces of water a day because all of our fluid intake doesn’t come from water so it’s hard to quantify amounts. Activity, illness and weather may increase need.
- Pay attention to the urinary output of little children and babies. A dry diaper for a longer period than usual is a good indicator that they are dehydrated. Act quickly.
- Think of alternate ways to increase fluid intake: fruits, vegetables, infusions, herbal teas, etc.
- Consider your water storage. The bare survival minimum recommendation to have on hand is one gallon per day per adult. Nursing mothers need more. We are not talking about long-term water bricks and barrels and other massive methods here, that could be another article….just basic survival amounts.
- Do you have a travel filtration system: Life Straw, Sawyer Filter or other filtration system that you know how to use?
- Have the basic rehydration solutions ready and available at a moment’s notice. It can mean the difference between life and death if you have no way to get medical help and know when and how to use them. It might be helpful to keep a copy of these hydration recipes handy and/or have the Gatorade and Pedialyte in your pantry.
Share with other readers what hydration solutions you use. Are you likely to try the Mylar water pouch hack? Do you have something to add that might be helpful?
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