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Dehydration and Your Child

What is dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when an infant or child loses so much body fluid that they can't maintain ordinary function. Dehydration may happen because vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or not drinking enough water. If a child has a severe case of dehydration, he or she may not be able to replace body fluid by drinking or eating normally. In these cases hospitalization may be required.

How can I tell if my child is dehydrated?

These are some signs of dehydration to watch for in children:

  • Dry tongue and dry lips
  • No tears when crying
  • Fewer than six wet diapers per day for infants and no wet diapers for eight hours in toddlers
  • Sunken soft spot on infant's head
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry and wrinkled skin
  • Deep, rapid breathing
  • Cool and blotchy hands and feet

How can I help my child get better at home?

  • Carefully follow the doctor’s instructions for feeding.
  • Do not give children under age two over-the-counter medicine for diarrhea, unless instructed by your doctor.
  • Encourage your child to drink fluids that are unsweetened (sugary sodas, juices, and flavored gelatin can irritate diarrhea).
  • Continue to breastfeed infants normally.
  • Electrolyte solutions may be helpful when given as recommended by the doctor.
  • Slowly increase fluid and food intake.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever. Do not give your child aspirin.
  • Allow your child plenty of rest.
  • Watch for signs of worsening or returning dehydration.

When should I call the doctor?

Call the doctor if your child:

  • Has any signs of dehydration as listed above
  • Has increased vomiting or diarrhea
  • Has not wet diapers within eight hours
  • Is lethargic (sleeping more and less playful)

Hospital treatment of dehydration

Dehydration can usually be treated at home, but severe cases may require hospitalization. Hospital care may include:

  • Fluids given intravenously (IV)
  • Acetaminophen for fever
  • Rest

Questions to ask your child’s doctor

  • Should I give my child medication? If so, for how long and at what times of the day?
  • How should I store the medication? Should I refrigerate it?
  • When will my child start to feel better?
  • Will I need to bring my child back for a follow-up visit?
  • Should I keep my child home from school or daycare?
  • Should he be limited from certain activities? If so, which ones?
  • Are there certain foods or liquids she should have or avoid?
  • Which over-the-counter pain relievers do you recommend?
  • Which over-the-counter medications/preparations do you not recommend?
  • Which symptoms should I report to you/your office?

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Can't find the health information you’re looking for?

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/8/2012…#8276