Children and adults normally lose water through sweat; especially during hot weather, extended physical activity or because of fever. It’s also lost through urine, stool, tears, vomit and breathing. The water and salts lost must be replenished for normal body functions to continue; usually from water and salts in our diet.
Dehydration can have severe consequences if not treated in time thus action to rehydrate the body must be taken as soon as signs of dehydration are noticed.
Signs of dehydration
- Lack of tears when crying
- A sunken fontanel
- Irritability and lethargy. If the child is older, he/she may feel dizzy or exhausted
- Dry, sticky mouth
- Eyes that appear sunken
- Small amounts of deep yellow urine or total lack of urine for 6 to 8 hours in infants
- In older children, there is little dark yellow urine or no urine at all for 12 or more hours
- Cool, dry skin
- Dehydration is normally treated by rehydration measures to replenish fluids and restore the required level of water and salts in the body. Mild dehydration from exertion can be treated by giving the probably thirsty child a lot of fluid then letting him/her rest in a cool place. While other fluids can do, plain water is preferred.
- If illness is causing mild to moderate dehydration in a toddlers, fluids can be replenished with an Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), which can be bought at a pharmacy. ORS has the correct balance of sugar and salts needed by the body. It should be administered over 3 to 4 hours according to instructions using a spoon or oral syringe every few minutes. As the child recovers, you can give more ORS less often. This treatment can also be used in vomiting children since small amounts of fluid can be absorbed between vomiting episodes.
- If you still nurse your infant, continue breastfeeding him/her unless vomiting is persistent. Give ORS between breastfeeding intervals but stop giving him/her formula until no sign of dehydration remains.
- Drinks such as soda, fruit juice, chicken broth, sports drinks and tea should be avoided since they don’t have the required mix of sugar and salt. Other treatment methods such as withholding food for over 24 hours or maintaining the BRAT diet don’t meet the child’s nutrition needs and are not recommended. Over-the-counter medications for vomiting and diarrhea should also be avoided.
- If ORS is not effective and the child is vomiting persistently, has frequent diarrhea or can’t swallow, take him/her to a hospital near you. Intravenous fluids may have to be given.
- Ensure enough fluid intake
- During strenuous activity, your child should take fluids about every 20 minutes
- Try to ease pain if a sore throat prevents a child from drinking or eating. Fever should also be controlled.
- Ensure that your child drinks enough fluids often in hot weather and avoid scheduling physically demanding activities for hottest hours of the day.
Rehydration and gastroenteritis
If your child has a mild case of “stomach flu” but is not dehydrated, keep feeding him or her as usual but avoid fatty or very sugary foods. Foods such as complex carbohydrates, lean meats, fruits, vegetables and yogurt are often well tolerated by children who have gastroenteritis but aren’t dehydrated.