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During the summer months, many Australians suffer under the blazing sun due to a lack of appropriate precautions. Unlike 'Slip, Slop, Slap' - an instantly recognisable slogan raising skin cancer awareness - there is no public campaign increasing peoples awareness of the causes and debilitating affects of dehydration.

Dehydration is defined as the lack of sufficient body fluids for the body to continue normal functions at an optimal level (by loss, inadequate intake, or a combination of both). Fluid losses of up to 5 per cent are considered mild dehydration; up to 10 per cent are considered moderate and up to 15 per cent are considered severe. Severe dehydration can result in cardiovascular collapse and death if not treated quickly.

To combat the effects of dehydration, Dr John Catford, Victoria's Chief Health Officer, advises adults to drink at least two-and-a-half litres of fluid a day and believes active people may require two to three times as much during the warmer months.

"This fluid intake should be made up of mainly plain water, but could also include soup, milk and vegetables or fruit juices," says Dr Catford. "Tea, coffee and alcohol are mild diuretics and should be drunk in moderation."

It is also imperative that children are encouraged to drink plenty of water, which will increase urine flow and improve fluoride intake.

"Children do not need fruit juice, soft drinks and cordials which are all sweet drinks and can lead to tooth decay or picky eating," says Dr Catford.

And remember, drinking too much alcohol in hot conditions is also bad news. Lots of water should also be consumed to avoid a hangover caused by dehydration.

Symptoms of dehydration

  • Mild to severe thirst
  • Rapid drop in weight
  • Dry lips and tongue
  • A decrease in the amount of urine passed, and it is concentrated (it will appear darker than normal)
  • Faster breathing and heart rate than normal
  • Weakness or light-headedness (particularly when standing)
  • Dry-looking skin with loss of skin elasticity
  • Sunken eyes
  • In infants, a sunken fontanelle

Complications of dehydration

  • Kidney damage
  • Shock

What causes dehydration?

  • Excessive sweating
  • Severe heat stroke
  • Severe diarrhoea or vomiting
  • Diabetic complications
  • Certain medications
  • Complications from some types of surgery

What you can do

  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Take oral rehydration salts
  • Consult a doctor immediately if an infant or young child is dehydrated, or if there is severe, uncontrollable vomiting
  • Go to the emergency room of your local hospital if there are signs of shock
  • Food intake should be continued, if possible, but do not include high fibre fruits and vegetables

What your doctor can do for you

Your doctor can determine the cause of dehydration and treat it, and may admit you to hospital for the administration of intravenous fluids if dehydration is severe.

Preventing dehydration

Dehydration can be prevented by drinking plenty of fluids if you are participating in strenuous exercise or suffering from diarrhoea. If you are vomiting uncontrollably, try to sip small amounts of fluid in between bouts.

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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