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First Aid & Emergencies

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Treating Dehydration in Adults and Children Over 12

Call 911 if the person has:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry skin, mouth, and mucous membranes
  • Little or no urination for 12 hours or more
  • Increased heart rate and breathing
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, confusion, or change in mental status
  • Dehydration due to heat stroke





1. Replace Fluids

For mild dehydration or while waiting for medical care for an adult with severe dehydration that is not due to heat stroke:

  • The person should try to drink 2 quarts of fluid, such as water, juice, or sports drinks (clear fluids, best), in 2 to 4 hours. But it is better to drink small amounts of fluid often (sips every few minutes), because drinking too much fluid at once can induce vomiting.
  • The person should drink at least 10 glasses of liquid a day to replace lost fluids.
  • If the person is elderly, fluid replacement may need to be done slowly. Consult a doctor.
  • If the person is vomiting, try ice chips, popsicles, and small sips of fluid.
  • If the person is recovering from diarrhea, consider that some sports drinks contain a lot of sugar, which can worsen diarrhea.



2. When to Call a Doctor for Mild Dehydration

Seek medical help if:

  • The person’s symptoms get worse or don't improve within 24 hours.
  • The person is elderly.
  • You think a prescription medication such as a diuretic caused the dehydration.

3. Follow Up

  • For mild dehydration, the person should rest for 24 hours and keep drinking fluids, even if symptoms improve. Fluid replacement may take up to a day and a half.
  • If dehydration is moderate to severe, fluids may need to be replaced intravenously (IV) in the hospital.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Anita Schroff, MD on October 25, 2015

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