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Guide: How to make your own oral rehydration solution

Daniel Hessel

Are you sick, or just recovering from being sick? If so, you may have become dehydrated, in which case an oral rehydration solution can help. Here we show you how to make your own.

Guide: How to make your own oral rehydration solution

If you’re at home with gastroenteritis or the flu, you undoubtedly already know you should drink plenty of water. But at the same time you may not be able to take in much water in practice, or you’re losing more than just fluid and need to top up the salts in your body. It can also be useful to drink something other than just water on the hottest summer days, and oral hydration solution may be useful here too.

It can be a good idea to keep a tube of soluble oral rehydration salts in your medicine cabinet. But did you know that it’s actually really easy to make the solution yourself?

Why do I need oral rehydration solution?

If you've had a fever or diarrhoea, for example, you may have lost a lot of liquid. At the same time, it isn’t just fluid that you lose – the body’s salt levels also get thrown out of balance. To help your body recover quickly, oral rehydration solution can be a useful complement to plain water.

How do I know if I'm dehydrated and need oral rehydration solution?

If it’s really hot and you're sweating for long periods, if you’ve had a fever that’s made you sweaty, or if you've had diarrhoea or vomiting, you’ll have lost a lot of water. But that water also takes with it salts and minerals from your body.

If you or your child are sick with a high temperature, vomiting or diarrhoea, it can be a good idea to start taking oral rehydration solution at an early stage to maintain the body’s levels of salts and minerals.

Other than being thirsty, the following symptoms are signs of dehydration:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

In small children, it can be more difficult to tell, particularly if they're too young to say if they're experiencing any of the above symptoms. If your child doesn’t pee as often as normal, is unusually irritable or lethargic, or has a dry mouth, these can be signs of dehydration according to the NHS.

I don’t have any oral rehydration solution, what can I do?

In a moment, we’ll tell you how you can make your own oral rehydration solution. But of course there are other things that can help too. Fruit is a good way to take in liquid, and a load of other healthy things besides. Fruit juice is another option, although the NHS advises that you don’t give it to young children.

And of course water, water, water. It’s never a bad idea to drink more water, and that should be your first priority.

How to make your own oral rehydration solution

Making your own oral rehydration solution is simple. What you need:

  • 1 litre of water
  • 6 level teaspoons of sugar (level = up to the edges of the teaspoon, not over them)
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Important things to remember

  • If you're even slightly unsure about the water quality, boil the water first and allow it to cool.
  • Use normal table salt, not herb salt or anything similar.
  • Be accurate with your measurements

To prepare the oral hydration solution, you simply mix in the sugar and salt into the water and stir until they’ve completely dissolved.

Can I give oral rehydration solution to children?

If your child is less than one year old, it’s recommended that you go to a pharmacy and buy ready-made oral rehydration solution intended for small children. This makes sure they get the right amount. If you are unsure, visit the NHS website for more detail information on dehydration or contact your child's paediatrician for advice.

Why should I add sugar to the oral rehydration solution?

To make it taste good, obviously!

Joking aside, sugar – or glucose, to be more accurate – is important in the mechanism that transports salts into the body’s cells. So that’s why you need to have sugar in oral rehydration solution.

The oral rehydration solution doesn’t taste very nice – can I do anything to improve it?

Oral rehydration solution should taste roughly like tears, which isn’t exactly a gastronomic experience. If you can’t stand the taste, or if you can’t get your child to drink it, you can flavour it with squash concentrate. You should ideally use sugar-free squash to avoid disturbing the sugar/salt balance in your rehydration solution.

You can even make oral rehydration solution ice cream! This is perfect for “tricking” children to consume the rehydration solution, or for really hot days. Add a little squash concentrate and perhaps a few berries, and freeze it into ice cream moulds – and after a couple of hours you have your own oral rehydration solution ice cream!

How much should I drink?

When it comes to consumption of oral rehydration solution, you shouldn’t down an entire jugful at once. Instead, you should drink little but often. Pour out a large glass of rehydration solution and take a mouthful at 5-15 minute intervals to keep your levels topped up.

And of course the amounts also depend on how sick you are. If you've got gastroenteritis and are still vomiting, you’ll have to adapt your consumption to that.

How many times a day should I drink the oral rehydration solution?

It can be difficult to estimate exactly how much each individual needs to drink a day. According to the NHS, 6-8 glasses (about 1.2 litres) per day is reasonable, and this should include the oral rehydration solution.

How long should I drink oral rehydration solution for?

If you're sick, it’s a good idea to continue until your symptoms have completely gone. Because it can take a while for your body to restore normal levels, it can be sensible to drink a little rehydration solution for a few days after your symptoms have disappeared.

Should I drink oral rehydration solution if I'm pregnant?

Absolutely. Oral rehydration solution is essentially just water, sugar and salt, with no strange additives. And if you're pregnant it’s even more important that you don’t get dehydrated.

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