What is dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition in which someone loses so much body fluid that he or she can't function normally. Dehydration may happen because of vomiting, diarrhea, fever or not drinking enough water. If a child has a severe case of dehydration, they may not be able to replace body fluid by drinking or eating normally. In these cases, the child may have to go to the hospital.

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 or urination 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 dehydrated child get better at home?

  • Carefully follow the doctor's instructions for feeding.
  • Do not give children under age 2 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 the amount of fluid and food you give your child.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol®) for fever. Do not give your child aspirin.
  • Allow your child plenty of rest.
  • Watch for signs of dehydration that get worse or come back.

If my child is dehydrated, 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 no wet diapers or urination 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).
  • Monitoring of electrolytes imbalance.
  • Acetaminophen for fever.
  • Rest.

Questions to ask your child's doctor about dehydration

  • Should I give my child medication? If so, for how long and at what times of the day?
  • 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 my child be limited from certain activities? If so, which ones?
  • Are there certain foods or liquids my child 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?

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/10/2020.


  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. How to Treat Diarrhea in Infants and Young Children. (https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-treat-diarrhea-infants-and-young-children?utm_campaign=Google2&utm_source=fdaSearch&utm_medium=website&utm_term=dehydration&utm_content=1) Accessed 9/10/2020.
  • Merck Manuals. Dehydration in Children. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/children-s-health-issues/miscellaneous-disorders-in-infants-and-young-children/dehydration-in-children) Accessed 9/10/2020.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Signs of Dehydration in Infants and Children. (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/Pages/dehydration.aspx) Accessed 9/10/2020.

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