What is Dehydration?
When the body doesn’t have enough fluid, dehydration occurs. Water is a critical element of the body; it is needed in order for various organs to function. When the body is not adequately hydrated, those organs, including the eyes, suffer.
By definition, dehydration is the deficit of water. When more water leaves the body than enters it, you put yourself at risk for dehydration; it typically happens when you stop drinking water or lose large amounts of fluid. Fluid loss occurs in daily bodily functions such as sweat, urination and bowel movements. Extreme heat, vomiting, diarrhea, alcohol and even diabetes increase your risk of dehydration.
A healthy body’s initial response to a loss of fluid is to conserve the remaining fluid. This creates various symptoms of dehydration including thirst, dry mouth, decreased urine output, muscle cramps, headache, lightheadedness, sleepiness and a lack of tear production. When the eyes stop producing tears, they are no longer properly lubricated; this, in turn, leads to dry eye, eye strain and vision problems.
Dry eye occurs when there are insufficient tears to nourish the eye. Tears are necessary for providing clear vision – they wash away foreign matter in the eye and also help reduce the risk of eye infection. Symptoms of dry eye include irritation, excess watering, blurred vision and the feeling that there is foreign matter in the eye. When it occurs as a symptom of dehydration, the best treatment for dry eye is to drink plenty of water. Eye drops can also help by lubricating the eye and washing away foreign materials.
Tired eyes, blurred vision, headaches, and double vision are all symptoms of eye strain, which can occur when the eye is not properly lubricated. Eye strain is also caused by overconcentration on visual tasks or by using a digital device for an extended period of time. When eye strain occurs as a symptom of dehydration, it can also be reduced by drinking plenty of water; this helps flush out salt in the body and properly hydrates your eyes. Resting the eye by blinking or shutting the eye will also help alleviate eye strain. See this article for more information on easing the pain of digital eye strain.
In the event of severe dehydration, serious, life-threatening symptoms may arise, including kidney stones, shock, coma, organ failure and can even death. Severe dehydration symptoms include feeling confused or lethargic, lack of urination for eight hours or more, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, weak pulse, inability to sweat and sunken eyes. When you’ve reached this point, your body desperately needs hydrating fluid and electrolytes in order to heal. Properly hydrating the body will usually help reverse the condition and return a person to health. Severe dehydration can be life-threatening, so please seek immediate help if you exhibit the signs above!
You can prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of water throughout your day. It is especially important to do so before, during and after exercise to replenish the water lost through sweating. Additional tips for preventing dehydration include reducing intake of alcohol, caffeine, and high-protein foods as well as excess salt from your diet.