Frequently Asked Questions

Dehydration In Children

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What is dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition that develops when your child's body does not have enough fluids. Your child may become dehydrated if he does not drink enough water or loses too much fluid. Fluid loss may also cause loss of electrolytes (minerals), such as sodium.

What increases my child's risk of dehydration?

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or fever

  • Sweating while playing sports

  • Young age, especially babies younger than 6 months

  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes or stomach problems

  • Low or high body weight

What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration?

Your child's dehydration may be mild to severe. Mild dehydration may cause few or no signs. Severe dehydration may make your child very ill. He may have more than one of the following:

  • Dry mouth, and may not want to drink any liquids

  • Tired, restless, or fussy

  • Very sleepy or will not wake up

  • Sunken eyes, or crying without tears

  • Urinating little or not at all, or dark yellow urine

  • Cold, pale feet and hands

How is dehydration in children diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child and check his breathing and heartbeat. He will look at your child's eyes, skin, mouth, and tongue. He will ask you how much your child has been drinking or urinating. Tell him if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Your child will have blood and urine tests. These may show your child's electrolyte levels and the cause of his dehydration, such as infection or diabetes. They may also show if his kidneys are working correctly.

How is dehydration in children treated?

Babies should continue to breastfeed or drink formula. Your child should not be fed solid food until his dehydration has been treated. If your child has diarrhea or is vomiting, he will be given the food he usually eats as soon as possible. Treatment may include any of the following:

  • Oral liquids:

    • If your child is mildly to moderately dehydrated, he may need an oral rehydration solution (ORS). This is a drink that contains the right amount of salt, sugar, and minerals in water. It is the best oral liquid for replacing his body fluids. Ask your child's healthcare provider where you can get an ORS.

    • An ORS can be given in small amounts (about 1 teaspoon at a time) if your child is vomiting. If your child vomits, wait 30 minutes and try again. Ask healthcare providers how much ORS your child needs when he is dehydrated and how often you should give it.

    • A sports drink is not the same as an ORS and should not be given without asking your child's healthcare provider.

    • Do not give your child soft drinks or fruit juices. These can make his condition worse.

  • A nasogastric (NG) tube may be inserted if your child vomits often and cannot keep liquids down. This is a tube that goes from his nose to his stomach. Healthcare providers can use the NG tube to give your child the liquids he needs.

  • IV liquids may be needed if your child has severe dehydration.

How can I help prevent dehydration in my child?

  • Offer your child liquids as directed. Ask his healthcare provider how much liquid to offer each day and which liquids are best. During sports or exercise, and on warm days, your child needs to drink more often than usual. He may need to drink up to 8 ounces (1 cup) of water every 20 minutes. Breastfeed your baby more often, or offer him extra formula.

  • Keep your child cool. Limit the time he spends outdoors during the hottest part of the day. Dress him in lightweight clothes.

  • Keep track of how often your child urinates. If he urinates less than usual or his urine is darker, give him more liquids. Babies should have 4 to 6 wet diapers each day.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has vomited more than twice in the past 24 hours.

  • Your child has had more than 5 episodes of diarrhea in the past 24 hours.

  • Your baby is breastfeeding less or is drinking less formula than usual.

  • Your child is more irritable, fussy, or tired than usual.

  • Your child urinates less than usual, or his urine is dark yellow.

  • Your child has a dry mouth and lips.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child has a seizure.

  • Your child seems confused and is not answering you, or you cannot wake him.

  • Your child will not drink or breastfeed at all.

  • Your child is not drinking the ORS or vomits after he drinks it.

  • Your child is not able to keep food or liquids down.

  • Your child cries without tears.

  • Your child has blood in his vomit or bowel movement.

  • Your child has cold hands or feet, or his face looks pale.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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