A child can become dehydrated either because she’s lost a lot of body fluids, or because she isn’t drinking enough. If dehydration goes on for a long time or is very bad, it can be a problem. Your child might need medical assessment and treatment.
Causes of dehydration
Gastroenteritis is by far the most common cause of dehydration. This is because it can make your child lose a lot of body fluids quickly. Any illness where there’s persistent diarrhoea, vomiting or reduced fluid intake can result in dehydration.
If your child won’t drink for any reason, he could also end up with dehydration.
Excessive sweating can also result in dehydration, particularly in babies in very hot weather, or in adolescent children who are doing vigorous activity.
Symptoms of dehydration
A young child who’s dehydrated will wee less often. She’ll have fewer wet nappies, or her nappies won’t be as wet as usual.
- will look gaunt and pasty
- will often be tired and lethargic
- will have lost weight because of fluid loss
- might have fewer tears
- might have a depressed fontanelle (the soft spot on a child’s skull), if he’s a baby
- might be thirsty.
Also, your child’s eyes might look sunken and dark, and her tongue and mouth will be coated and dry.
When to see your doctor about dehydration
You should see your GP if:
- your child can’t stop vomiting, and or his diarrhoea keeps going
- your child has any of the symptoms above
- you’re worried.
Treatment for dehydration
You can treat mild cases of dehydration by giving your child more water, or by giving her oral rehydration fluid. You can also freeze this fluid and give it to your child as an ‘icy pole’.
You should give your child fluids in small amounts, but frequently.
In more severe cases, your child might need to go to hospital to help him catch up on fluid losses.
In many cases, the safest and quickest way to do this is by via a small tube that goes into your child’s nose and then into his stomach. The rehydrating fluids go through this tube. Less often, your child will be given fluids intravenously (directly into the vein).
Prevention of dehydration
The best way to avoid significant dehydration is to see your doctor if your child has any illness that’s causing her to lose lots of fluid or stop drinking.