The definition for dehydration is when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. It is easy to imagine this happening to someone who is exercising intensely, or is in a hot environment. But some people may not realise that it is possible to become dehydrated in the normal workplace.

The body gets rid of fluids in a number of different ways; such as sweating, obviously going to the toilet, and in your breath, though this is in a very small amount. Because of this, even in the workplace or an office, it’s likely that our fluid levels are slowly decreasing. Especially considering the fact that other factors, such as air conditioners and heaters, can speed up the process. The only time this becomes a problem is when, for any reason, our fluid intake drops or stops entirely, causing us to become dehydrated over a period of time.

What is the recommended fluid intake?

Repeated studies have not succeeded in reaching a clear answer on what the recommended fluid intake should be, as the physical characteristics of each individual are important to take into consideration. The UK Food Standards Agency has recommended drinking 1.2 litres per day, basing this on averages, and working out an amount for an “average” person living in the UK, during “normal” weather. However, people travelling or working in a hot environment, or any other situation which may increase the speed that fluid is lost, would need to increase their fluid intake. For instance, some militaries that work in hot environments have increased the individual fluid intake to about 11 litres per day.

How do we recognise dehydration?

The two earliest signs of dehydration are dark urine and thirst, with thirst most likely being the easiest to monitor whilst in the office. This does though have a flaw, as the sensation of thirst is removed before the required amount of fluid has been replaced. But by knowing this, we can ensure to continue taking in fluids past the point at which our thirst is quenched.

Symptoms of dehydration

  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Passing small amounts of urine three to four times a day

Symptoms of severe dehydration

  • Not passing urine for eight hours
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Sunken eyes
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

The treatment of dehydration

Water, semi-skimmed milk, and diluted squash or fruit juices are the recommended fluids to help treat or prevent dehydration. There are also rehydration solutions available, which work to replace the additional salt and minerals as well as the fluids.

The temptation to gulp any fluid should be resisted, no matter how thirsty you are, as it can lead to a reflex form of vomiting, and will dehydrate further. Any person planning to carry out long periods of physical activity in a hot environment should plan their fluid intake and breaks. And for those people on the move, products such as a water bladder that can be worn or carried in a bag are recommended.

Treatment for children and babies

With a baby, it is wise to avoid giving them fruit juice to rehydrate, as it can make any vomiting or diarrhoea worse. But with children, it is helpful to supplement water with diluted squash or fruit juices, as only giving them water could potentially dilute the already low levels of minerals in their body.