What to Know About Dehydration In Children

There are multiple reasons a child might become dehydrated, and the most common are typically the results of vomiting and diarrhea. Children and in particular young children can become dehydrated quickly if they’re vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. 

It’s important as a parent, especially when your child is a baby or toddler, to be able to recognize the warning signs of dehydration and know when to contact your doctor or perhaps even seek emergency medical treatment. 

You can also learn about oral rehydration solutions so you can proactively give them to your child when he or she is sick.

The following are some of the primary things to know about dehydration in children. 

What Causes Dehydration in Children?

The most common reasons for dehydration in children are vomiting and diarrhea, caused by:

  • Viral infections like rotavirus
  • Bacterial infections which can be more serious than viral infections
  • Parasitic infections

Other causes of dehydration can be sores in a child’s mouth from a virus that make it difficult or painful to eat or drink, as well as increased sweating. Excessive urination could cause diabetes, as could certain conditions that make it difficult for food to be absorbed by a child’s body. 

Symptoms of Dehydration in Children

Signs of dehydration in children can include:

  • Decreased frequency of urination
  • Sunken spot on the front of the head in babies
  • Sunken eyes
  • No tears form when your child is crying
  • The child seems lethargic
  • Dry mucous membranes which include the tongue or the mouth lining
  • Irritability
  • Less skin elasticity
  • Decreased number of wet diapers in babies
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Dark yellow urine

There is a Clinical Dehydration Scale that can be used to determine the level of dehydration is experiencing. The scale has a list of symptoms, and then each is assigned a point value. 

If your child has a score of five points, then it indicates moderate to severe dehydration. A score of one to two points usually means a mild level of dehydration. 

When To Call a Doctor

If your child is young and is experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, you may not need emergency care, but you might need to contact your pediatrician. If your child doesn’t seem to be having enough fluids or isn’t eating enough, you should contact your doctor. If your child has any of the above symptoms, you may also need to contact your pediatrician.

There are other symptoms that may represent an emergency needing immediate care. For example, if your child has an extremely dry mouth, is lethargic or seems too weak to stand, you should seek emergency help. 

If your child has mild dehydration, it is something that can be managed at home. 

Replacing Fluids

If you’ve spoken to your doctor and they’ve recommended you replace fluids at home, there are different ways to do this. If your child is a baby and is nursing, you can try and nurse more frequently. For bottle-fed babies, if there is vomiting, you should try to offer smaller amounts of fluid but do so more frequently. 

For babies eating solids, certain types of foods such as strained fruits and vegetables and cereals provide fluid.

Oral rehydration solutions can also be a good option for babies and older kids as well, although you may need to speak with your doctor about how much to give a baby. 

An oral rehydration solution or ORS is a product regulated by the FDA. These solutions can be used not only to replace fluids that are already lost but to prevent dehydration if your child is sick. 

An ORS will usually have sugar and salt to replenish lost minerals in dehydrated children. 

While your child is still getting sick with vomiting or diarrhea, start off with small sips of an ORS to see how well they can tolerate it. 

Once anywhere from 12 to 24 hours have gone by, and symptoms seem to be getting better, you can start introducing more solid foods. Start with bland, simple foods first such as rice, pears, bananas, applesauce, and toast. Keep giving your child electrolytes for a few days after their illness. If your baby isn't eating solid food yet, you can always take these ingredients and blend them.

Fluid replacement can take up to a day and a half, and your child should be resting during this time as well. 

If you don’t feel your child’s symptoms are getting better, speak with your doctor right away.

Dehydration can be scary, especially in young children. Knowing the signs to look for and how to handle it proactively can be helpful. 

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