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Dehydration in Children
is a condition that develops when your child's body does not have enough fluids. Your child may become dehydrated if he or she does not drink enough water or loses too much fluid. Fluid loss may also cause loss of electrolytes (minerals), such as sodium.
Common symptoms include the following:
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 or she 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
- Dizziness in your older child
- Cold, pale feet and hands
- Sunken fontanelle (soft spot) on the top of your baby's head
Seek care immediately if:
- Your child has a seizure.
- Your child's vomit is green or yellow.
- Your child seems confused and is not answering you.
- Your child is extremely sleepy or you cannot wake him or her.
- Your child becomes dizzy or faint when he or she stands.
- Your child will not drink or breastfeed at all.
- Your child is not drinking the ORS or vomits after he or she drinks it.
- Your child is not able to keep food or liquids down.
- Your child cries without tears, has very dry lips, or is urinating less than usual.
- Your child has cold hands or feet, or his or her face looks pale.
Contact your child's healthcare provider if:
- 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.
- You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.
Babies should continue to breastfeed or drink formula. Your child should not be fed solid food until his or her dehydration has been treated. If your child has diarrhea or is vomiting, he or she will be given the food he or she usually eats as soon as possible. Treatment may include any of the following:
- Oral liquids:
- If your child is mildly to moderately dehydrated, he or she 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 or her 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 or she is dehydrated and how often you should give it.
- A sports drink is not the same as an ORS. Do not give your child sports drinks without asking his or her healthcare provider.
- Do not give your child soft drinks or fruit juices. These can make his or her 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 or her nose to his or her stomach. Healthcare providers can use the NG tube to give your child the liquids he or she needs.
- IV liquids may be needed if your child has severe dehydration.
Prevent or manage dehydration in your child:
- Offer your child liquids as directed. Ask his or her 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 or she may need to drink up to 8 ounces (1 cup) of water every 20 minutes. Breastfeed your baby more often, or offer him or her extra formula.
- Continue to breastfeed your baby or offer him or her formula even if he or she drinks ORS. Give your child bland foods, such as bananas, rice, apples, or toast. Do not give him or her dairy products or spicy foods until he or she feels better. Do not give him or her soft drinks or fruit juices. These drinks can make his or her condition worse.
- Keep your child cool. Limit the time he or she spends outdoors during the hottest part of the day. Dress him or her in lightweight clothes.
- Keep track of how often your child urinates. If he or she urinates less than usual or his or her urine is darker, give him or her more liquids. Babies should have 4 to 6 wet diapers each day.
Follow up with your child's doctor as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.
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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.
Learn more about Dehydration in Children (Ambulatory Care)
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