Children + vomiting + diarrhoea = dehydration

Posted on 3 June 2016

Dr Lawrence Archer, a GP supporting Mediclinic Newcastle, says that vomiting and diarrhoea in children is the leading cause of death in children in Africa. But you can take precautions at home to ensure your kids stay hydrated until you can get them to the doctor.

How do I tell if my child is becoming dehydrated?
Any fluids leaving your child’s body via vomiting or diarrhoea need to be replaced immediately, as dehydration over an extended period can lead to death. A valuable method to assess dehydration in children is by gently pinching the skin on the side of their tummies. When you release it, the skin should immediately return to normal. When your child is dehydrated the skin fold will take much longer to flatten out and look normal again. Other symptoms of dehydration include:
• Dry, cracked lips and mouth.
• High fever and dry skin.
• Sunken eyes or a sunken soft spot (the fontanelle) on your baby’s head.
• Passing urine less and less frequently.
• Dark-coloured urine.
• Tired and weak with very little energy.
• Crying without shedding any tears.

If your child is under a year old and presents any of these symptoms, see your paediatrician immediately.

What causes dehydration in children?
Small children and babies are at much greater risk of becoming dehydrated. Kids’ bodies have a higher percentage of water than adults’ bodies, their metabolic rates are higher and they are at greater risk of infections that cause vomiting and diarrhoea. They’re also dependent upon others to feed them and give them water so they can become dehydrated more easily without knowing what to do about it.

What can I do to rehydrate my child until I can get to a doctor?
Mix half a teaspoon of salt with a litre of Coca-Cola. Stir until the Coke goes flat and give it to your child a little at a time.

Alternately, you can mix a litre of water at room temperature with eight teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt.

What if it’s both vomiting and diarrhoea?
When a child vomits, they lose sodium; when they have diarrhoea they lose potassium. So always have an electrolyte solution in your first-aid kit as a first line of treatment. If you don’t have any, let them drink a sports drink, for example Energade or Powerade.

How much fluid should my child drink?
It’s important to keep track of how much fluid your child is drinking (and urinating), especially when they’re sick. These are rough guidelines of how much fluid they should be drinking, depending on their age:

6 months – 950ml to 1 litre
9 months – 1 litre to 1.25 litres
1 year – 1.2 litres to 1.35 litres
2 years – 1.35 litres to 1.5 litres
4 years – 1.5 litres to 1.8 litres

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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