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ORS For Dehydration: Benefits, Correct Dosage and Side Effects,

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Dehydration is due to the loss of water and electrolytes through excessive sweat, vomit, stool, and urine. To negate the effects of dehydration, Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), a solution of electrolytes with sugar and water, helps rehydrate the body.

This article covers the various aspects of ORS and how it saves us from dehydration.

 What causes dehydration?

It’s normal to lose water from the body every day through breath, sweat, urine, stools, tears and saliva. Usually, we replenish it by drinking fluids and eating water-rich foods. If someone loses too much water or doesn’t replace it, they can get dehydrated.

Following are other reasons you may lose more water than usual:

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

Signs of mild or moderate dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Less urination 
  • Headache
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry, cool skin 
  • Dark yellow urine

Signs of severe dehydration include:

  • Dehydrated skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Sunken eyes
  • Not urinating or observing very dark yellow urine   
  • Fainting
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion, or irritability

Symptoms for young children and babies can be different than for adults. The symptoms include:

  • No tears when crying
  • Sleepiness, lack of energy, or irritability
  • Dry diapers for 3 hours
  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Sunken eyes, cheeks, and soft spot on the top of the head

What is an oral rehydration solution (ORS)?

Oral rehydration solution (ORS) is made of water, sugar, and electrolytes, specifically potassium and sodium. ORS helps in replenishing the body’s fluid levels. It’s generally used to treat moderate dehydration due to diarrhea, vomiting, or other conditions.

How does an oral rehydration solution work for dehydration?

You can treat mild dehydration with fluids such as water and clear broth.

But in the case of moderate dehydration, an ORS is considered ideal. In addition to containing water, ORS also contains specific amounts of glucose and electrolytes. The electrolytes are potassium and sodium.

These components help in maximizing fluid absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal tract relies on sodium-glucose cotransporters (SGLTs), which are carriers of proteins in the intestinal cells of the body. Cotransporters help move substances across membranes in the body.

Specifically, SGLTs combine sodium and glucose transport in the small intestine. It then allows glucose to increase the absorption of fluids in the body. Additionally, sodium needs glucose to be adequately absorbed. Therefore, ORS contains both glucose and sodium.

What are the benefits of oral rehydration solution?

ORS drinks help treat mild dehydration.

1) Treating diarrhea

Diarrheal episodes are common in children and adults, sometimes resulting in extreme dehydration and loss of essential minerals from the body.

2) Overcoming dehydration

When the body loses excess fluids and salts from the body, consuming ORS drinks helps restore lost salts and glucose.

3) Enhance the performance of athletes

Rehydration is essential for every athlete due to the fluids and electrolytes they lose through excessive sweating. Consuming rehydrating supplements such as ORS can pump up the energy in athletes by boosting their hydration levels. It also keeps an athlete safe from injury.

4) Prevent fatigue

The body feels weak and tired when it is not hydrated enough. By drinking ORS, a person can quickly reduce fatigue and weakness and feel active and energetic.

What are the substitutes for ORS?

If you cannot find ORS near you, the most effective and least expensive options are available in your kitchen. However, these substitutes (preferable boiled) need to contain:

  • Starches and sugars are a source of glucose and energy
  • Sodium
  • Potassium

Other traditional substitutes such as the following make for a highly effective oral rehydration solution:

  • Breast milk
  • Diluted mixtures of cooked cereals and water called gruels
  • Carrot soup
  • Rice water – congee
  • A simple solution of salt and sugar in addition to orange juice and mashed banana to enhance the taste and increase potassium intake

However, if none of the abovementioned ingredients is unavailable, the other alternatives are as follows:

  • Fresh fruit juice
  • Low concentrated tea
  • Tender coconut water
  • Clean, boiled and cooled water

You can replace white sugar with molasses or any other form of raw sugar as they contain more potassium than white sugar.

How to make homemade ORS?

It is not difficult to prepare a homemade ORS. All you need is clean, boiled, and cooled water, some sugar and salt. Mix six teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt for one litre of water. Mix all the ingredients till they dissolve.

Another effective way to prepare homemade ORS for children with watery diarrhoea is by mixing rice cereal, water, and sugar until it thickens. But the consistency should be drinkable. Adding a banana or other non-sweetened mashed fruit helps provide the required potassium. Parents should continue feeding the child in small amounts at regular intervals.

What are the side effects of ORS?

As effective as ORS prevents dehydration, wrong or excessive use can also cause specific side effects.

The possible side effects of ORS are-

  • Vomiting 
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Swelling of ankles
  • Unusual weakness
  • Rashes
  • Dizziness
  • Itching or swelling (especially of the face, tongue, and throat)
  • Breathing problems

If any of these side effects persist for a more extended time and worsen the condition, it’s crucial to contact the doctor to avoid severe health complications.

It is also essential to keep in mind that consuming ORS daily is not healthy. Overconsumption can cause the deposition of extra salts and minerals in the body, which may lead to problems including diabetes and arthritis.

What is the correct dosage of ORS?

The correct dosage for children under the age of 2 is at least half a large glass of ORS after each watery stool and for children above the age of 2 is at least one large glass of ORS after each watery stool.

When are IV fluids needed?

Our body needs water to function correctly, and it gets dehydrated when it fails to receive enough water. However, a person may need intravenous (IV) fluids if they become dangerously dehydrated. The reasons for severe dehydration are as follows

  • Sickness (vomiting and diarrhea)
  • Excessive exercise without drinking sufficient liquids
  • Increase in outdoor activities in the sun without drinking enough liquids
  • Serious injuries or burns
  • A long surgery does not allow you to drink or eat for a long time.


As mentioned above, an oral rehydration solution treats moderate dehydration. It’s made of water, glucose, sodium, and potassium. The combination optimizes fluid absorption in the body, which then helps quickly replenish fluids. The solution is often used to treat dehydration caused due to diarrhea or vomiting. One can buy it over the counter or get a prescription. If a person has had a lot of diarrhea or vomiting, they should speak with a doctor. They can determine if the person needs an oral rehydration solution or if they need intravenous fluids.

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