Hydration in its simplest form is to supply and retain water in the body's tissues. Take in too little water and you risk dehydration, making it hard for the body to carry out essential functions. We’ve all experienced mild dehydration at times, like when the weather is hot, or we are doing a sweaty workout. Look out for warning signs your hydration level is dipping: feeling thirsty, dark or strong-smelling urine or going much less often, dry mucus membranes (mouth, lips, eyes), feeling dizzy, or feeling tired and unwell. In fact, when thirst sets in, your body is already 2% dehydrated, so you need to work hard to replace this. If you are losing excess fluids, through vomiting or diarrhoea, or sweating from a fever, then you need to drink more than usual. Your immune system is fuelled by water when fighting an infection, besides a fever or diarrhoea, so bear these increased requirements in mind with flu or gastroenteritis. If you have diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease or other medical conditions that can lead to excess fluid loss, you might need to up the water intake compared to everyone else.
As soon as you feel thirsty, you should reach for the fluids. Water is a good place to start. Try small sips, little and often, if you are finding it difficult to keep things down. If you are losing large amounts of fluid (from sweating, diarrhoea, vomiting or fever), make sure you replace essential salts too, to keep your body running smoothly. Oral rehydration salts are a good place to start, as they side-step the calories while imitating your body’s natural balance. It will make you feel better and put your body in the best place for anything – fighting infection, recovering from exercise or replenishing in a heatwave.
When you are losing fluid through sweat or diarrhoea, you are losing more than just water. You are losing important salts such as sodium. If you were to drink simply water, your body would lose most of it, and you would continue to lose the important salts at the same time. Hypotonic solutions are best for straightforward hydration. These have a lower concentration of salts and sugar than in the body, making them ideal to replace losses. Most oral rehydration solutions or salts fall under this. When taking O.R.S Hydration Tablets, the glucose helps get the sodium that is also included back into the body. This creates a path for water molecules to follow the sodium. It's a game of "follow the leader" back into the bodies cells, glucose first, then sodium, then water.
As dehydration becomes more serious, you may feel lethargic and irritable, you may be breathing faster and your heart may be racing, your skin will be dry, cold and less elastic and your eyes may be sunken. You should seek urgent advice if you have any severe symptoms of dehydration, such as feeling unusually tired or drowsy, if you’re confused or disorientated, or if you have fits or faints, or dizziness when you stand up. You should also consider seeing your doctor sooner rather than later if you have other medical conditions, such as diabetes, that might make you at higher risk of dehydration than others.
Remember to keep a bottle of water or hydration solution handy during your shift and top up throughout the day. If you think you have mild dehydration, you can top up gradually and this shouldn’t keep you away from work. Depending on your work, be cautious - even 1 to 2% of dehydration can have an effect on motor skills and mental performance. If you have any severe symptoms, you are not fit for work.