Dehydration: What Can You Do at Home for Your Child?
If you suspect your child might be getting slightly dehydrated, but she does not appear very ill, you can try to treat her at home. Treatment means keeping up with her fluid needs. You should offer her small, frequent sources of rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, for about four hours. If your child can keep enough of this liquid down, you can probably continue to treat her at home.
If he is keeping down fluids but doesn’t like the Pedialyte, you can also try giving him small amounts of ice chips or let him suck on a Popsicle. That, however, cannot be the main way to replace fluids.
You first have to give your child the amount she needs to keep her body functioning properly. Infants need about one ounce once per hour. Toddlers need two ounces per hour, and older children need three ounces per hour.
In addition, you need to keep up with the fluids he loses. Children that weigh less than 22 pounds need 2 to 4 ounces of fluid each time they vomit or have watery diarrhea. A child that weighs more than 22 pounds needs 4 to 8 ounces of fluid every time they lose fluids. Again, small, frequent amounts of fluid will usually stay down. Even if your child goes 10 minutes without vomiting, some of the fluid is getting into his bloodstream.
If your child is still urinating normally, crying wet tears, is sweating, has a regular heartbeat, does not have a dry mouth, and she is keeping down small amounts of fluids, you can continue to treat her at home.
However, if any of the signs of dehydration are clearly present, or if he has a high fever or blood in the stool, he needs to be taken to the doctor. The sicker he seems to you, the more this is an emergency. What you do not want to do is keep a child who is getting more and more dehydrated at home.
There are illnesses other than gastroenteritis that can cause dehydration. These illnesses need to be treated along with their symptoms. Examples of such illnesses are gastroenteritis, appendicitis, and diabetes. Foodborne, bacteria-caused gastroenteritis, like salmonella, often leads to symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Children with appendicitis may vomit and refuse to eat or drink. Appendicitis almost always requires surgery. Children with undiagnosed diabetes may have excess fluid in their urine due to high levels of sugar in their bloodstream. This can lead to dehydration. Treatment in this case would include controlling blood sugar as well as restoring the fluid balance.
Children also become dehydrated when they are overheated. This can happen during outdoor exercise in extreme heat, which is more likely to be a problem with an older child. A discussion of heat-related illnesses is outside the scope of this article.
While most children who are vomiting and have diarrhea have viral gastroenteritis, there are other possible causes for these symptoms. Any child who looks sick and dehydrated needs care in the emergency room or doctor’s office. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and let a doctor evaluate your child.
Doctors will examine your child for signs of dehydration. They can also perform physical and laboratory tests to evaluate your child’s condition. They may give her one dose of medication (ondansetron, or Zofran) to help her keep down liquids and attempt to rehydrate her orally in the office or emergency room.
If he is significantly dehydrated, the doctor may suggest administering fluids intravenously. Any other problems your child is having will be evaluated and treated appropriately.
Once your child is able to keep fluids down at home, a regular diet should be reintroduced, starting with small portions. Breastfeeding mothers are encouraged to continue to breast feed their children.
You may have been taught in the past that the best thing for a person after vomiting and diarrhea is to rest the stomach with what was called a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and tea). This is not necessarily recommended anymore. There are differences in opinion about the right way to reintroduce foods.
Sugary drinks and very fatty foods should be avoided. Otherwise, a normal diet in small portions is usually best. Discuss this with your child’s doctor if you are not sure.
Even if your young child does need treatment in a doctor’s office or emergency room for dehydration, he will probably improve very rapidly and have no further difficulties once the illness has run its course. Children with further problems will need to have those addressed by a health care professional.
If you have any serious concerns about your child’s state of hydration or illness, get in touch with your doctor right away.