Dehydration and Rehydration in Children

Baby drinking water.Dehydration happens when a person loses more fluids than he or she takes in. The human body is made up largely of water, so you need the right balance of fluids in your system for good health. Large amounts of fluids can be lost through fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or sweating. Dehydration happens very quickly in infants and small children. This is because they don’t have as much fluid to spare. Dehydration can quickly become very serious. Rehydration is the important way of returning those fluids back to the body. This restores normal functioning.

Signs of dehydration

Watch for the following signs of dehydration. This is especially true if your child has a fever or diarrhea, or is vomiting:

  • Dry mouth or extreme thirst

  • Fewer than 6 wet diapers a day for infants, or less frequent urination in older children

  • Fussy or agitated behavior

  • Looking or acting very tired or weak

Treating dehydration

If you suspect dehydration, call your healthcare provider. You can treat mild dehydration at home by doing the following:

  • Keep track of how much fluid your child drinks and how often he or she urinates.

  • Breastfeed or bottle-feed a sick infant more often, but for shorter periods of time.

  • For vomiting or diarrhea, give your child 1 to 2 teaspoons of an oral rehydration solution (ORS) every 10 minutes. Continue until your child can drink larger amounts of fluid without vomiting or passing stool.

  • Avoid soft drinks, tea, juice, broth, or sports drinks like electrolyte solutions. These may make symptoms worse.

  • Do not use medicines for vomiting and diarrhea, unless your healthcare provider tells you to.

  • If your child has a hard time keeping fluids down and becomes very dehydrated, your healthcare provider may decide to treat him or her in a hospital. There, a healthcare provider can make your child comfortable. Your child will be given fluids and nourishment by mouth or through an intravenous (IV) line. Medicine may be given to stop the vomiting and allow your child to drink enough fluid to stay hydrated.

When to seek medical care

Get medical care right away if your child:

  • Has fever:

    • Is an infant younger than age 3 months, with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

    • Is a child of any age, with a temperature that rises repeatedly to 104.0°F (40°C) or higher

    • Is a child younger than age 2 years, with a fever that lasts more than 24 hours

    • Is a child ages 2 years or older, with a fever that lasts for 3 days

    • Is a child who has had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Is an infant vomiting all feeds (not just spitting up)

  • Hasn’t urinated for 6 hours or more, or has dark or strong-smelling urine

  • Can’t drink even small amounts of liquid without vomiting

  • Cannot be soothed or is very irritable or restless

  • Seems unusually drowsy, listless, weak, or limp

  • Has muscle cramps

  • Has dry, wrinkled, or pasty-looking skin, sunken-looking eyes, a very dry or sticky mouth, or cracked lips


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