When to Go to the ER for Dehydration


Jun 4, 2023


Knowing when to go to the ER for dehydration is a crucial way to keep you and your kids safe over Summer break. Summer is the perfect time to get outdoors and soak up the sun — however, without the proper precautions, you could risk becoming dehydrated which, in some cases, can become a medical emergency. 

Water makes up 60 percent of the adult human body, making it an extremely important player in your body’s daily functions. Because humans routinely lose water when breathing, sweating, and urinating, humans need to drink a significant amount of water to stay healthy. For example,  adult males need approximately three liters of water each day whereas adult females need 2.2 liters. If the amount of water leaving the body exceeds the amount consumed, a person will experience dehydration.

For minor cases, being able to spot dehydration symptoms early can possibly prevent a trip to the emergency room. But if you or a loved one find yourself with a severe case, here is how you can tell when to go to the ER for dehydration.

Dehydration symptoms and causes

When your body realizes that you are at risk of dehydration, it will try to conserve water as best it can by sending thirst signals to the brain and decreasing urine output. Therefore, the more water you lose, the more symptoms you’ll start to experience. 

Common dehydration symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dark urine (the darker the color, the more dehydrated you are)
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness

Regular body functions can trigger dehydration but circumstances including illnesses or extremely warm environments can also be the cause of dehydration. The following situations are often common causes of dehydration:

  • Excessive sweating: Intense workouts and excessive time in the heat can increase sweat production, resulting in a significant amount of water loss.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea: Both conditions can result in rapid fluid loss which can be dangerous if left untreated. This is why knowing how to avoid food poisoning is a crucial summer tip!
  • Diabetes: Elevated blood sugar levels cause sugar to enter the urine. Water then follows, causing frequent urination, excessive thirst, and potentially dehydration.
  • Burns: Human skin regulates fluid and body temperature. So when a person gets a really bad sunburn, for example, they can become dehydrated because water seeps into the damaged skin from inside the body.
  • Alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol increases water loss while simultaneously impairing your ability to recognize the early signs of dehydration.

How can you tell if someone is dangerously dehydrated?

Although the dehydration symptoms listed above should be concerning, they are not always life-threatening. However, the following symptoms should be a clear indication of when to go to the ER for dehydration or your nearest emergency room as these could be heat stroke warning signs:

  • Excessive vomiting
  • A fever of 103°F or higher
  • Cessation of tear, urine, and sweat production
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Red, dry, and hot skin

Should I go to the ER if I think I’m dehydrated? 

Yes! Extended periods of dehydration can lead to serious health complications, including heat injury, urinary and kidney problems, organ failure, seizures, and hypovolemic shock. With prompt dehydration treatment from an emergency room, you can likely avoid any dangerous side effects.

Dehydration treatment

Minor cases of dehydration can be treated by staying out of the sun and drinking plenty of water or fluids with electrolytes to replenish your body. However, more severe cases of dehydration will require medical intervention. 

A big red flag for when to go to the ER for dehydration is if oral rehydration does not take immediately or isn’t possible due to illness or injury. The emergency room will be able to give you IV fluids for dehydration that will allow your body to rehydrate faster and prevent any organ failure or other complications. Your doctor will monitor you for any abnormalities with your kidneys, blood pressure, and heart rate to ensure no damage was done. 

However, prevention is going to be your best weapon against dehydration. Follow the tips below to keep yourself out of the ER waiting room this summer!

Tips for avoiding dehydration

The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of water throughout the entire day, especially if temperatures are high and you’re spending time outdoors. Checking weather forecasts for high heat index days can help you decide when it’s best to avoid outdoor exercise and sun exposure. The hours of 12–3 p.m. tend to be the hottest times of the day, so it might be a good idea to stay in the shade or indoors during that time. 

If you must be outdoors on high-temperature days, wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing that covers your skin, drink plenty of water, and carry a personal fan or mister to keep yourself cool. Children and elderly individuals are extremely vulnerable during high temperatures and are more susceptible to dehydration, so be sure to take extra precautions with those members of your family. 

Feeling dehydrated? Head to your nearest Complete Care facility! 

The Texas heat is no joke, so knowing when to go to the ER for dehydration can save your summer. If you’re feeling the symptoms of dehydration, see if your symptoms improve after drinking a substantial amount of water. If your situation doesn’t change or worsens, head to one of our many Complete Care ER locations or visit our urgent care facilities in Austin, TX, and Colorado Springs

If you’re unsure of when to go to urgent care for dehydration versus an emergency room, just know that all of Complete Care’s facilities are equipped to help patients dealing with dehydration regardless of which location you go to.

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