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Dehydration in Children

Intro

Infants and small children can become dehydrated quickly.
Contact your doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Crying without tears
  • No urine output in four to six hours
  • Sunken eyes
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting for more than 24 hours, or vomiting that is consistently green in color
  • Fever higher than 103°F
  • Less activity than usual
  • Urination much more than usual

Go to a hospital's Emergency Department in these situations:

  • If your child is lethargic (difficult to awaken)
  • If you cannot reach your doctor
  • If your child is complaining of severe abdominal pain
  • If your child's mouth looks dry

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Self-Care at Home

Most children become dehydrated because of diarrhea or vomiting caused by a viral infection. The way to help a dehydrated child is to give plenty of fluids while the child is ill. This is called fluid replacement.

Suitable fluid replacement for children younger than two years includes Pedialyte, Rehydralyte, Pedialyte freezer pops, or any similar product designed to replace fluids, sugar, and electrolytes (dissolved minerals such as sodium, potassium, and chloride). You can buy these products at most large grocery and drug stores.

You can make your own oral rehydration fluid by following this recipe:

  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon potassium chloride (lite salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • dissolved in 1 liter (a little over a quart) of water

Children older than two years may be given flat soda (soft drinks that are opened then shaken to lose their fizz), Gatorade, or water-based soups.

Give a few sips every few minutes.

Although it may seem that your child is vomiting all that is given, usually an adequate amount of fluid is kept down.

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Within four hours after vomiting stops, a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apples, toast, and other simple starches, such as noodles or potatoes) may be started in children who are weaned from formula or breast milk.

Change slowly to a normal diet after one to two days on the BRAT diet. If you are breastfeeding, you may continue to breastfeed throughout the illness.

If you are bottle-feeding, restart half-strength formula feedings after one to two days of Pedialyte, and then return to full-strength formula feedings within another day.

Follow-up

Any child discharged from the Emergency Department or doctor's office with dehydration, vomiting, or diarrhea will be followed closely, either by phone, or preferably in the physician's office, the next day.

Continue fluid replacement as instructed by your doctor.
Call your doctor or return to the hospital's Emergency Department if your child seems worse, if further symptoms appear, or if you have any questions or concerns.

Follow-up

Any child discharged from the Emergency Department or doctor's office with dehydration, vomiting, or diarrhea will be followed closely, either by phone, or preferably in the physician's office, the next day.

Continue fluid replacement as instructed by your doctor.

Call your doctor or return to the hospital's Emergency Department if your child seems worse, if further symptoms appear, or if you have any questions or concerns.

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