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Prevent Dehydration in Kids

By Dr. Martin Belson,
Pediatrician A pediatrician notes the signs and cures for fluid loss in children.

What is dehydration?

  • Dehydration means not enough fluid is in the body.
  • Younger infants and children are more likely to become dehydrated than older children or adolescents because of several factors, including a smaller fluid reserve, a higher metabolic rate, and dependence on others for access to fluids.

How does a child become dehydrated?
1. Decreased amount of fluids taken in the body

         a. Poor appetite

         b. Difficulty drinking or eating
                   i. Sore throat
                  ii. Mouth sores

2. Increased loss of fluid from the body

          a. Vomiting
          b. Diarrhea
          c. Fever / sweating
          d. Breathing fast
          e. Kidney problems
           f. Diabetes

What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration in a child?

  • Urinates less frequently
  • No tears when crying
  • Dry, sticky mouth or tongue
  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • Sunken eyes
  • Sunken soft spot on the front of the head in babies (called the fontanel)
  • Lethargy (less active than normal)
  • Irritability (more crying, fussiness)
  • Darkened urine (should be clear or very pale yellow)

How can I prevent dehydration in my child?
Ways to prevent dehydration may differ depending on the age of the child and the condition causing the dehydration.

  • If a child has a sore throat, ease the pain with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Cold drinks or popsicles can also soothe a sore throat while supplying fluids at the same time.
  • On a hot, dry day have your child start drinking before thirst develops and they should rest from activity in a cool, shaded place until the lost fluid has been replaced.
  • If your child develops diarrhea, drinks to avoid include soda, ginger ale, tea, fruit juice (especially apple and orange), gelatin desserts, chicken broth, or sports drinks. These beverages do not have the right mix of sugar and salts and can even make diarrhea worse.
  • The best way to prevent dehydration is to make sure kids take in more fluids than they’re losing (e.g., vomiting).
  • Breastfeeding should be continued in all nursing infants who have mild to moderate dehydration.
  • The instructions below for treatment of dehydration can also be used to help prevent a child from becoming dehydrated in the first place.

How can I treat my child should he/she show signs of dehydration?

  • The replacement of lost fluids is known as rehydration, which is achieved by quickly replacing the lost fluids using an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, Infalyte or Kaoelectrolyte (also available as popsicles), over the course of a few hours.
  • Start the rehydration process by giving your child 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of an oral rehydration solution every 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Unflavored or flavored oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, Infalyte or Kaoelectrolyte (also available as popsicles) replace water and salts lost during a bout of gastroenteritis.
  • You can use a spoon, oral syringe, or a medicine dropper.
  • You can slowly increase the amount of fluid you give every five to ten minutes.
  • Even children who are vomiting can usually be successfully rehydrated in this way, because the small, frequent sips get absorbed in between the vomiting episodes.
  • After keeping these small amounts of oral rehydration solution down, you can give 60 to 120 mL (2 to 4 ounces) oral rehydration solution for each episode of diarrhea or vomiting to a child weighing less than 10 kg (or 22 pounds), and 120 to 240 mL (4 to 8 ounces) to a child weighing more than 10 kg (or 22 pounds).
  • Breastfed infants should continue to be breastfed while receiving oral rehydration solutions.
  • Although oral rehydration solutions are very effective in replacing electrolyte and fluid losses, they do not shorten the duration of diarrhea or lessen the volume of stool. Early refeeding, however, can reduce stool output.
  • Therefore, once your child is rehydrated and tolerating the larger amounts of the oral rehydration solution, you should resume your child’s normal diet, which should include lots of complex carbohydrates (such as rice, potatoes, and whole-grain breads and cereals), lean meats, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, as well as the child’s usual milk source (breast milk or formula for infants, and full-strength cow’s milk for older children).
  • Be sure to avoid fatty foods or foods/beverages high in sugars, such as juices, soft drinks, and Kool-Aid.
  • Resuming an age-appropriate diet early is essential in supplying your child with necessary calories and nutrients and can even reduce the duration of gastroenteritis.

When should I call my pediatrician concerning dehydration in my child?

  • It is best to call for specific instructions when you first suspect that your child is becoming dehydrated.
  • You should also call your doctor anytime your child’s dehydration is not improving or worsening.
  • If your child develops severe dehydration, he/she will require IV (intravenous) fluids in the ER to help correct the dehydration.

Dr. Martin Belson with his girls

Dr. Martin Belson ("Dr. Marty") is a board certified pediatrician and pediatric emergency physician, board certified medical toxicologist, and the former president of the Greater Atlanta Pediatric Society. His most important job is raising his daughters, Brooke and Anna. His Web site,, is a user-friendly resource for moms and dads that details children's health emergencies and poisonings.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Marty.


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