Vomiting and diarrhea are uncomfortable for anyone, but children are especially vulnerable. Dehydration is a natural consequence of such issues, and for children, it can become life-threatening. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of the condition and know how to treat and correct it.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration?
People often associate dehydration with feeling thirsty, but this is not always the case. In most instances, feeling thirsty comes after dehydration. For children, dehydration can occur rapidly, especially when they are dealing with illness or infection.
Thankfully, there are several signs of dehydration, allowing observant parents a chance to intervene and reverse the condition. In infants and young children, the signs and symptoms include:1
- Listlessness or irritability
- No tears when crying
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No wet diapers for three hours
- Sunken cheeks and eyes
- Sunken soft spot on top of the skull
What Do You Give a Dehydrated Child?
Before delving into drink and food options for a dehydrated child, it is necessary to point out the need to consult a physician, especially with severe cases. Dehydration is a severe condition for children, and if not corrected within a few days, it can lead to significant complications.
That being said, the primary focus when your child begins showing signs of dehydration is to replenish their fluids. However, you will want to focus on fluids containing electrolytes — essential minerals, such as potassium, sodium, and calcium. It would be best if you continued with the electrolyte solution for a minimum of 12 to 24 hours.2
Once dehydration symptoms, like vomiting and diarrhea, begin to settle, you can gradually introduce bland foods back into their diet. Bland foods are best because there is little risk of upsetting your child’s already vulnerable stomach and digestive system. The best foods include:
The goal of the gentler diet is to help the body rebalance. Over the course of a few days, you can start allowing your child to return to their regular diet. However, electrolytes should probably still be a part of the plan, especially in the form of oral-rehydration solutions.
What Is Oral-Rehydration?
Oral rehydration therapy or an oral rehydration solution is a treatment for dehydration.3 The solution is a mixture of water, salts, and glucose that is ingested to help the body return to normal electrolytes, fluids, and sugars.
ORS beverages are primarily used for the treatment of dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Children are particularly susceptible to the loss of vital minerals and nutrients in their bodies, which can, if not corrected, lead to death. Studies have shown the effectiveness of such solutions, with some reports that the use of OTS can decrease the risk of death by more than 90%.4
Keeping Your Child Hydrated This Summer
Keeping your kids hydrated this summer seems like an easy thing to accomplish: just give them more water. Unfortunately, life is never that easy. Some kids just don’t like to drink water, and others simply forget to drink because they are too busy playing. Thankfully, there are several ways to keep the focus on drinking:
- Mix three parts water with one part 100% fruit juice
- Keep water front and center
- Buy reusable water bottles
- Make homemade popsicles with a mix of 100% fruit juice and water
- Don’t buy sugary beverages, like soda or sports drinks
Dehydration is a potentially dangerous condition in small children, but with quick intervention, it is manageable. However, if a child is dealing with diarrhea for more than three days, contact your family doctor.