You're sick and everyone seems to tell you to drink plenty of water. You — being an inquisitive sort — lie in your bed with the covers pulled up to your neck and wonder, "Why do I have to drink water?" Believe it or not, it is not senseless hooey, but rather sound medical advice. Several legitimate reasons may be given for why drinking plenty of water is a good idea when you're sick, all of which relate to the prevention of dehydration and its adverse health effects.
Meet Your Daily Fluid Needs
When you are sick, you may not feel like eating or drink anything. Your body, however, requires a minimum amount of water each day to function normally and clear toxins — regardless of whether you're sick or well. You may find liquids more appealing than solid foods when you're under the weather, so that may help. To meet your daily requirements, shoot for a minimum of approximately one gallon of water daily if you're a man, and roughly three quarts if you're a woman. If you are vomiting, have diarrhea or a fever, try to increase your fluid intake to make up for these additional losses of body water. Soup, broth, frozen ice pops, gelatin, fruit juices and sports drinks are good options to maintain your hydration. Avoid caffeinated beverages, because they cause increased water loss through the kidneys, which works against your goal of staying hydrated.
A fever causes you to lose body water, which may lead to dehydration if you are not drinking enough fluids. The dehydration may worsen your fever, further exacerbating the dehydration. This cycle will continue unless you are able to interrupt it by rehydrating your body. The best course of action is to prevent dehydration from developing by drinking plenty of water and other fluids. If you get behind because of nausea or vomiting, take a few hours to let your stomach calm down, then slowly begin sucking on ice chips or sipping ice water or cold, clear fluids.
Prevention and Control of Nausea and Vomiting
If you don't drink enough water when you're sick and become dehydrated, the lack of body water can lead to new or worsening nausea and vomiting. Keeping ahead of the game by drinking plenty of water helps you avoid this problem. Fluid replacement to prevent dehydration is especially important if you are losing body water due to diarrhea, because large volumes can be lost in a short period. The development of vomiting in addition to diarrhea may cause severe dehydration, necessitating hospitalization for intravenous fluid replacement. You may be able to avoid this situation with adequate water consumption.
Keeping yourself well hydrated when you have a head or chest cold helps prevent your upper and lower respiratory secretions from becoming thick, which means you can clear them from your airways more easily. One of the symptoms of dehydration is thickening of your secretions, which works against you when you're trying to recover from a head cold or respiratory illness.
- The National Academies Press; Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients); Recommended Intakes for Individuals, Total Water and Macronutrients; 2005
- "Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 16th Edition"; Dennis L. Kasper, M.D., et al., Editors; 2004
- The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals; Dehydration; Kenneth B. Roberts, M.D.; April 2007