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Dehydration in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

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 or she 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
  • Being in the sun or heat for too long
  • 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 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

How is dehydration in children diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child and check his or her breathing and heartbeat. He or she will look at your child's eyes, skin, mouth, and tongue. He or she will ask you how much liquid your child has been drinking, and how much he or she is urinating. Tell him or her 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 or her dehydration, such as infection. They may also show if his or her 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 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 drink contains the right amount of salt, sugar, and minerals in water to replace 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 has been 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.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I help prevent dehydration in my 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.
  • 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.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • 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.

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

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 healthcare providers 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.

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