Dehydration occurs when the body does not receive as much water as it needs. Without enough water, the body is unable to function properly. Depending on how much fluid is missing from the body, dehydration can range from mild to severe.

What causes dehydration?

It is normal to lose water from the body on a daily basis — whether it be from using the bathroom, sweating, producing tears or saliva, among others. Typically, an individual replaces the lost liquid, but if too much water is lost, it can lead to dehydration. The most common cause of dehydration in younger children is severe diarrhea and vomiting. Excessive water may be lost if your child has a fever, has diarrhea, is vomiting, is sweating excessively or is peeing a lot.

What are the signs of dehydration? 

Signs can range from mild to moderate to severe.

  • Signs of mild or moderate dehydration: Dry mouth, increased thirst, decreased urination, dark yellow urine, a headache, muscle cramps, cool and dry skin.
  • Signs of severe dehydration: A lack of urination, very dark yellow urine, extremely dry skin, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and/or breathing, sleepiness or lack of energy, sunken eyes or fainting. 

Babies and younger children can show different signs. Those signs can include dry mouth and tongue, dry diapers for three hours, lack of tears when crying, sunken eyes or cheeks and sleepiness or lack of energy. 

What are the risks of dehydration?

Although anyone can get dehydrated, there are certain individuals who have an increased risk.

  • Babies and younger children: Children these ages often vomit and have diarrhea, leading to higher water loss. Younger children and babies cannot tell a parent when they are thirsty or get themselves a drink.
  • Older adults: Typically older individuals have less water in their bodies and may not realize they are thirsty.
  • Sick people: Those that are ill may not want to or be able to drink a lot.
  • People who are active outside: Individuals who are outside in hot or humid weather need to drink more water to prevent themselves from becoming dehydrated.

How is dehydration treated?

To fully treat dehydration, the lost fluids and electrolytes need to be replaced. For infants and children who have mild to moderate dehydration, an over-the-counter oral re-hydration solution can be used. Remember to avoid plain water in children less than 6 months, as it can cause seizures. For other children, a diluted sports drink may be used to help them re-hydrate. 

Both children and adults who are severely dehydrated need to be treated by emergency personnel. Fluid and salts are delivered through a vein to help absorb quickly and speed recovery.


Dr. Chelsie L. Tellman is a board-certified pediatric at the Boys Town Pacific Street Clinic, 14080 Boys Town Hospital Road. To read more about Dr. Tellman, click here

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