Dehydration (Child) | Health & Fitness

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Dehydration means the body loses too much fluid or doesn’t take in enough, usually due to fever, overheating, or diarrhea. It is preventable and easily treatable, but you must address the problem immediately or it can become life-threatening.

How can I tell if my child is dehydrated?

These are the most common signs:

  • Decreased energy or joy
  • A sunken fontanel (soft spot) in a baby
  • A dry and sticky mouth
  • No tears when crying
  • An elevated heart rate when there is no fever.
  • Decreased urine output
  • dark yellow urine
  • For a child in diapers, do not wet every two or three hours
  • For an older child, not urinating about once every four hours (during waking hours)

If you notice any of these symptoms, call your child’s doctor right away:

If your child continues to lose fluids, symptoms of severe dehydration may develop. If you see any of the following danger signs, take your child to an urgent care center right away:

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  • Hollow eyes
  • Cool, mottled hands and feet
  • dizziness
  • Lethargy, confusion, dizziness, or delirium

Why do children get dehydrated?

Children have many opportunities to become dehydrated, from playing outside on a scorching day to contracting one of the many childhood diseases. Here are some common culprits:

  • Fever and overheating. These are some of the most common causes of dehydration. When your child has a fever, he sweats and water evaporates from his skin as his body tries to cool down. It’s amazing how much fluid children lose when they have a fever: For every degree their temperature rises above 100.4 F, your child loses 12.5 percent of their body fluid.
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The air we breathe is moistened in the airways, giving the liquid another way to escape. When children have a fever or lung infections, they breathe quickly and expel excess fluid. Like a fever, exercising on a hot day or just sitting in a stuffy, stuffy room can lead to sweating and fluid loss.

  • Diarrhea and vomiting. If your child has an intestinal illness, especially one known as acute gastroenteritis (AGE), he may lose fluid in the form of diarrhea. If she is also vomiting, she will lose even more fluid. If she has trouble keeping fluids down to replace these losses, she increases her risk of dehydration.
  • Excess urine. More rarely, diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, and certain conditions that affect hormones and the nervous system can lead to increased fluid loss.
  • Decreased fluid intake. Sore throats and other ailments, such as hand, foot, and mouth disease, can cause so much pain that children sometimes stop drinking.

What should I do if my child has diarrhea?

Babies with diarrhea need special care, because they can become severely dehydrated in less than 24 hours. Call your child’s doctor right away if you notice signs of dehydration, such as sticky saliva, dark yellow urine, weakness, dry diapers, or cold, speckled hands or feet.

If your child has moderate to severe diarrhea, he or she needs an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte, Infalyte, or Kaolectrolyte. Take a few sips every few minutes. Call your doctor right away if you notice the signs of dehydration listed above.

If your child is older, you can increase his fluid intake by giving him sips of water or ice chips. Avoid very sweet liquids, don’t give broth, fruit juice, milk, soda, or sports drinks, and avoid over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications.

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How can I prevent other types of dehydration?

If your child has a fever, offer plenty of fluids; some children do better with ice cold drinks, while others may be more soothed by warm liquids. Avoid citrus drinks like orange juice and grapefruit juice; they will sting and burn the irritated tissue of a sore throat. If you have trouble swallowing, you can use a pain reliever such as paracetamol. (To protect against Reye’s syndrome, a rare but life-threatening disorder, never give aspirin to children or adolescents.)

If a child is vomiting, it is important to give small amounts of fluids frequently to replace the fluid that has been lost. A couple of hours after a vomiting episode, give 2 ounces of water every half hour or so, up to four times. If she can drink the water without vomiting again, give her 2 ounces of electrolyte solution and alternate with water every half hour. If you can keep the water and electrolyte solution down, add milk or semi-prepared formula and slowly increase the amount to 3 to 4 ounces every three to four hours. If vomiting continues, stop all fluids for an hour and start again with a smaller amount.

During hot weather and exercise, of course, your child needs more fluids than usual. Children generally need 44 to 88 ounces of fluid per day; For every 15 minutes of vigorous activity, add another 4 to 6 ounces of water (for a child up to 90 pounds). Have your child take fluids two hours before exercise, and then offer fluids every 10 to 20 minutes, whether he’s thirsty or not. Again, avoid sports drinks—the relatively high sugar content of some of these drinks can cause cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.

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When should I call my pediatrician?

If your child shows symptoms of dehydration (dark urine, tearless crying, sticky mouth, lethargy, and blotchy hands and feet) and worsens despite your care, contact your pediatrician. Seriously ill children may need IV fluids.

Pantell, Robert HMD, James F. Fries MD, and Donald M. Vickery MD Caring for Your Child: An Illustrated Parent’s Guide to Complete Health Care, Eighth edition. Da Capo life books.

US Federal Drug Administration. Prevention of dehydration in children.

nemours Foundation, Dehydration.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Diarrhea.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Vomiting treatment.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Guidelines for Pediatricians: Exertional Heat-Related Illnesses.

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