Dehydration in children can be a serious medical condition. Left untreated, it can have dire consequences. Since children aren’t always aware or able to tell us if they’re dehydrated, it falls to us as parents to make sure our children do not fall prey to what is generally an easily preventable condition.
Dehydration can have many causes. The most common is illness. When your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, they can lose a lot of fluid. Fever can also contribute to fluid loss. For every degree in temperature above 100.4 F, your child loses 12.5 percent of body fluid. Decreased fluid intake due to a sore throat or mouth is another cause, as is inadequate fluid while active or in the heat. In rare cases, excessive urination due to conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease can cause dehydration in children.
Dehydration in children is often preventable. Be sure your child has adequate fluid intake. If they’re outdoors in hot weather or especially active, they need more fluid than normal. In cases of illness, try to encourage fluids when possible. If your child isn’t drinking as much due to a sore throat or mouth, treat the soreness so they can continue drinking.
With an infant, you have to be more observant to catch the signs of dehydration as they aren’t able to tell you. You may notice that your infant’s fontanel (soft spot on the head) is sunken in. Urine output will be decreased and urine will be dark colored. Going longer than two to three hours without a wet diaper indicates dehydration. You may also notice an elevated heart rate or lack of tears with crying.
In older children, they may appear to have less energy than usual. Reduced urination, less than once every four hours, is also a sign to be on the lookout for. An older child will often complain of a dry mouth.
In severe cases of dehydration in children, it may be necessary to seek immediate medical attention. Signs of severe dehydration may include light-headedness; sunken eyes; cool, mottled hands or feet; or confusion or delirium.
In mild cases of dehydration, you can treat your child yourself at home. The most important thing is to get fluids in your child and replace lost electrolytes. For children under the age of two, oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte can help. These can usually be found at your local grocery store or pharmacy. If you breastfeed your baby, you can continue nursing as usual. If you bottle-feed, you can restart formula at half strength after a day or two of Pedialyte, returning to full strength formula after another day.
In older children, broth, Gatorade, flat soda and water are good choices. If you’re having trouble getting your child to drink, popsicles or ice chips may be other options to try.
If home treatment is not helping or your child is showing signs of severe dehydration, you should take your child to see your pediatrician or family doctor. They will determine whether it is necessary to rehydrate through intravenous fluids.