Dehydration is a condition in which the body doesn't have enough water to work properly. Your child's body can lose a lot of water if he or she has diarrhea, is vomiting, or has been exercising for a long time without having anything to drink. If water is not replaced in the body, it can cause decreased activity, weakness, electrolyte imbalances, and, in severe cases, death.
Infants and young children are at greatest risk for dehydration. Sick children may become dehydrated if they do not feel well enough to drink, have stomach pain, or a fever.
With mild dehydration, children may:
With more severe dehydration, children often:
Dehydration can be a medical emergency. Call your healthcare provider IMMEDIATELY if:
Your child may need to be treated in the hospital for these symptoms.
Encourage your child to drink. Dehydration, no matter what the cause, needs to be treated by replacing lost fluids.
Mild dehydration due to illness in infants under 1 year old
Encourage, but do not force, your child to drink. If you are not breast-feeding your child, give him or her special clear liquids with electrolytes, such as Pedialyte, instead of formula for the first 12 to 24 hours. You can buy oral electrolyte solutions without a prescription at supermarkets and drugstores. If you are breast-feeding and your baby is urinating less often than normal, offer an electrolyte solution between breast-feedings for the first 6 to 24 hours.
If your child is vomiting, give small amounts of breast milk or the electrolyte fluids more often than you usually feed. The child will be better able to keep the liquid down and will still get the same amount of fluid.
For most illnesses, start giving a bottle-fed baby full-strength formula again after 12 to 24 hours of being able to keep down clear liquids.
Mild dehydration due to illness in children over 1 year old
Encourage but do not force your child to drink. Give popsicles and half-strength lemon-lime soft drinks (half water, half soft drink) and electrolyte solutions to start. You can also try giving your child water or ice chips. Electrolyte solutions like Pedialyte or Gatorade will help your child replace both fluids and electrolytes that have been lost.
If your child is vomiting, he or she should drink small amounts of liquid often rather than a lot all at once. Start with 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon every 5 minutes and increase gradually.
If your child is not vomiting or having diarrhea, water or an electrolyte solution alone works well in the first few hours, although your child may eat regular food if he or she is hungry. Bland food, rice, crackers, applesauce, banana, and toast are good as a bland diet. If your child tolerates clear liquids or a bland diet for 12 to 24 hours, you can start giving your child what he usually eats and drinks.
Mild dehydration due to exertion in older children
Follow the instructions given above for mild dehydration in children over 1 year old. Your child will probably be quite thirsty and should be allowed to drink as much as she or he wants. Pure water is OK for the first hour or two, but after this, your child will need drinks containing sugar and electrolytes. If your child has been exercising heavily, have him rest in a cool, shady place until he is rehydrated.
Mistakes to avoid
Call IMMEDIATELY if: