Dehydration symptoms in kids and what parents can do

Heat can cause illness if not taken seriously

The early hot days of summer can mean getting caught off guard by heat-related illnesses, such as dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States, over 9,000 high school athletes are treated for heat illnesses each year.
Many medications and underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, also can increase the risk for heat illnesses.


One of the most common heat illnesses is dehydration. This occurs when the amount of fluid the body loses, usually due to sweating, is greater than the amount taken in. If not treated right away, your body stops working normally.

Signs of dehydration
• Dry, sticky mouth
• Dizziness and/or headache
• Decreased or darker urine
• Fatigue
• Muscle cramps

Children are especially susceptible to dehydration. They generate more heat for their body size than adults. They also sweat less, which is the body’s way of cooling itself.

Age plays a role in how much daily water intake is needed to stay hydrated. Sodas, sweetened drinks (diet or regular) and caffeinated drinks are not part of daily hydration needs and can increase risk for dehydration.

Sports drinks generally are not needed if you are not exercising more than one hour and can be harmful to children who don’t need the extra sodium and glucose. Water is the best choice if you are exercising less than one hour.

Sports drinks will replace electrolytes lost in sweat after strenuous exercise. In addition to rehydration after strenuous activity, a glass of chocolate milk will help refuel with a good blend of carbohydrates and protein.

James A. Tavelli, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Okolona, suggests the following guidelines for minimum daily water intake (1 cup = 8 ounces):

• Children ages 4 to 13: 5 to 8 cups
• Teenage boys and adult men: 13 cups
• Teenage girls and adult women: 9 cups

Norton Children’s Medical Group

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“Once you’re thirsty, it’s too late to hydrate,” Dr. Tavelli said. “About two hours before exercising, you should drink 2 to 3 cups of water. During exercise, you need to be drinking 1 to 2 cups every 20 minutes, then 1 cup within 30 minutes of stopping.”

According to pediatricians, an easy way to check on proper hydration is that urine should look like lemonade, not apple juice. If you still have signs of mild dehydration, such as dry mouth or thirst, drink more.

Heat cramps

Dehydration can cause heat cramps, which include muscle cramps in the legs, stomach and sometimes the hands. Drinking enough fluids and moving to a cool location will make these symptoms go away.

Heat exhaustion

Untreated dehydration and exposure to high temperatures can quickly turn into heat exhaustion, which includes the following in addition to the above symptoms of dehydration:
• Confusion
• Pale skin
• Rapid heartbeat
• Profuse sweating
• Fainting

If you or someone around you is experiencing these symptoms, drink or provide plenty of cool fluids, remove tight or unnecessary clothing, and use fans, iced or wet towels, a water hose or any other cooling measures.


Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can cause loss of consciousness; damage to the heart, brain and kidneys; and even death.
If you are around someone with the following heat stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately:
• Behavioral changes
• Seizures
• Loss of consciousness
• Lack of sweating

While you’re waiting for emergency medical services to arrive, move the person into the shade or a cool building, and help cool the body with fans, iced or wet towels, or a water hose.