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What is dehydration?
If your child's dehydrated, it means that she doesn't have as much fluid in her body as she needs. Children are more prone to dehydration than adults.
Dehydration can happen if your child takes in less fluid than she loses through:
- Fever, or
Dehydration can be mild and easily corrected, but it can also be moderate, severe or even life threatening.
Dehydration symptoms in children
Signs of mild to moderate dehydration
Any of these signs could indicate that your child is dehydrated or is becoming dehydrated:
- Goes more than six hours without urinating
- Urine that looks darker and smells stronger than usual
- A dry, parched mouth and lips
- No or fewer tears while crying
Signs your child may be seriously dehydrated:
- Sunken eyes
- Hands and feet that feel cold and look splotchy
- Excessive sleepiness or fussiness
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, or delirium
- Wrinkled skin
- Urinates only 1 or 2 times a day
What should I do if my child shows signs of dehydration?
If your child shows signs of serious dehydration take him to the emergency room immediately. Young children can quickly become dangerously dehydrated, so it's important to act fast.
If your child shows signs of mild to moderate dehydration: Call your child's doctor for advice. She may want to see him to make sure he's okay.
How is dehydration in children treated?
If your child is seriously dehydrated, he may need to receive liquids through an intravenous (IV) tube in the hospital until he's rehydrated.
If the doctor decides that your child is mildly or moderately dehydrated, she may instruct you to give him a special liquid to replenish the water and salts (electrolytes) that her body has lost. However, not all kids appreciate the taste of electrolyte liquids, so if your child refuses to drink them, increase the amount of the liquids he normally drinks and ask your doctor about alternatives. Ice pops and ice chips may be an appealing way to help rehydrate kids who are old enough to eat them.
Electrolytes for dehydration in children
Electrolyte liquids are available in most pharmacies. (Consult with a doctor before giving these products to babies).
Products you can give your child for dehydration include:
- Generic brands (Ask your pharmacist)
Don't substitute sports drinks such as Gatorade. Although they do contain electrolytes, sports drinks have a higher concentration of sugar than the electrolyte liquids that are specifically made to help rehydrate children.
Your child's doctor can give you exact directions for using electrolyte liquids, based on your child's age and weight. You can find general guidelines here from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the amount of total solution to give your child over 24 hours. The fluid can be given slowly, sip by sip, teaspoon by teaspoon, using a spoon or syringe
How can I prevent dehydration?
DO make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids, especially on very hot days and when she's ill.
DO offer him water frequently.
DO NOT give your child carbonated soda drinks, as they're terrible for his teeth and health.
DO NOT increase the amount of juice he drinks in a day. However, you might try diluting it with water. So if he's drinking 3 or 4 ounces of juice a day, for example, you could dilute this to 6 or 8 ounces of liquid. If he drinks 6 ounces of juice in a day, you could dilute it to make 12 ounces of liquid. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting your child's juice intake.)
Here's how to help prevent dehydration under these circumstances:
- Fever. Offer your child plenty of liquids whenever he has a fever. He may prefer an ice-cold drink, or he may find warm liquids more soothing. If he's having trouble swallowing, you may want to give him a pain medication such as children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the discomfort. (Never give a child aspirin, which is associated with a rare but serious condition called Reye's syndrome.)
- Overheating. Too much activity on a hot day or just sitting in a stuffy, sweltering room can lead to sweating and fluid loss. Give your child more fluids than usual during hot weather or if he's involved in strenuous activities.
- Diarrhea. If your child has an intestinal illness, especially acute gastroenteritis, he'll lose fluid through diarrhea and vomiting. Don't give him fruit juice, which could just make the situation worse, and don't give him over-the-counter diarrhea medicine unless his doctor recommends it. Just encourage your child to drink plenty of water. If you think your child may be becoming dehydrated, you can give him an electrolyte drink as well.
- Vomiting. Viruses and intestinal infections can lead to vomiting. If your child is having trouble keeping liquids down, he can easily become dehydrated. Try giving him very small amounts of fluid frequently. Again, an electrolyte drink may be helpful if you think that your child may be becoming dehydrated.
- Refuses to drink. A sore throat or ailment such as hand, foot, and mouth disease can cause so much pain that a child stops drinking. Give your child some children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the discomfort, and then offer him liquids, frequently and in small amounts. Cold liquids may be soothing, but avoid citrus drinks, like orange juice and grapefruit juice, because they'll sting and burn the irritated tissues of his throat.
If your child refuses her usual favorite drinks, be flexible. Popsicles are a great alternative; they're a good source of fluids and kids think of them as treats. Try the special popsicles made from Pedialyte or other electrolyte replacement solutions. They even make specially formulated Jell-O for this purpose now.