One of the most deceptive symptoms of various diseases in children is dehydration, i.e. lack of fluids. At the first glance, it doesn’t seem to be so serious – all in all, there are many worse symptoms like pain or fever. However, small kids lose fluids very quickly, and serious weight loss (10-15% of body mass) can affect health and cause serious complications, even permanent ones. Let’s find out what the signs of dehydration in kids are, and what you can do about it.
Why is dehydration more dangerous than we think?
Did you know that 80% of baby’s body consists of fluids, and bodies of children over 10 years have 65% of fluids, so even minor loss of fluid can cause serious problems with health and even be life-threatening? Dehydration poses risks for every organ: it hinders the functionality of kidneys, brain, and heart which can lead to seizures, irregular heartbeat, loss of consciousness and other serious conditions.
Dehydration can affect the functionality of all vital organs.
Since water is the basic component of our bodies, we need it for normal digestion and removal of toxins. When a human body lacks fluids, the level of potassium and chloride gets abnormal, which can also contribute to poor brain functionality and exacerbation of chronic diseases. In newborn babies, severe dehydration can even lead to death.
Why are children more prone to dehydration than adults?
- Kid’s body contains a higher percentage of fluids.
- High speed of water-electrolyte metabolism.
- The mechanism of water-salt metabolism control isn’t perfect yet, and kidneys are weaker.
What causes dehydration in kids?
The main reason for rapid fluid loss is diarrhea and vomiting that can be caused by intestinal infections, rotavirus, poisoning and other diseases. Most widespread reasons of dehydration in children include:
- viral infections that lower appetite and decrease the ability to drink;
- sores in kid’s mouth (as a rule, these are provoked by viruses) can make it painful to eat and drink;
- bacterial infections (Salmonella, Clostridium, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli and others);
- excessive sweating caused by fever and high temperature – it contributes to fast removal of salts in body;
- excessive urination that can take place because of various diseases, including diabetes;
- cystic fibrosis or celiac sprue, as well as other conditions that slow down the absorption of fluids and cause dehydration.
In summertime, dehydration can follow overheating and sunstroke.
Main signs of dehydration in kids
When to look for the signs of dehydration in kids? You should be aware when your child is suffering from vomiting, diarrhea, and infection, or there’s a lot of sweating caused by high temperature, hot weather or intense physical activity. If your kid doesn’t drink enough fluids, it may also worsen the situation.
There are three stages of dehydration: mild, moderate and severe. Let’s observe the symptoms of each stage.
Signs of mild dehydration (<5% of body mass lost)
- Irritability, overexcitement, fussiness, or restlessness.
- The sense of thirst or hunger that’s torturing the child all the time.
- Less urination than usually or a baby needs fewer diapers. Urine has got a darker color and a stronger smell.
Signs of moderate dehydration (5-10% of body mass lost)
- Lack of interest in games and communication.
- Sunken fontanel on the top of the head.
- Hollow eyes, a small amount of tears when a baby cries.
- Dry mouth, lack or absence of saliva.
- Strong thirst and hunger.
- No urination within 8 hours, or less than 3 urination (less than 3 used diapers) within 24 hours.
Signs of severe dehydration (>10% of body mass lost)
- No interest for playing, severe drowsiness (it’s even hard to wake up).
- Dry or sticky mouth and tongue.
- Sunken fontanel on the top of the head.
- Hollow eyes without tears.
- Fast heartbeat and breathing.
- Low blood pressure.
- Absence of urination (dry diaper) for over 12 hours, or dark-colored urine with a strong smell.
In case of serious dehydration, you may also notice dryness and blue color of skin (especially on lips and fingertips), paleness of the whole body. Your son or daughter may complain about a headache.
In case of severe signs of dehydration in kids, hospitalization is a must!
When to call for an emergency?
In case of severe dehydration that cannot be controlled, it’s always better to get help from hospital personnel. Call for an emergency team, if your kid becomes lethargic (finds it difficult to wake up), complains about severe abdominal pains, or suffers from severe vomiting or diarrhea over 24 hours. If you suspect that dehydration has been caused by an infection, hospitalization is also required.
In the hospital, doctors will make IV with glucose and electrolytes – they will help your kid to get back to the normal state. As a rule, 1-2 dropping bottles are enough to eliminate critical signs of dehydration in kids and normalize the level of fluids.
Medical tests to define the reasons of dehydration
But what if your kid suffers from dehydration even though visually everything is okay? The doctor will examine the medical history and perform a few analyses to define the cause and severity of fluid loss. The following laboratory tests can help with that:
- A detailed blood count can reveal an infection.
- Blood cultures show the certain type of infection.
- Blood chemistry serves to reveal the electrolyte abnormalities conditioned by diarrhea and vomiting.
- Urine analysis shows whether there’s a bladder infection, helps to identify the level of sugar and ketones in urine (it’s especially important for kids with uncontrolled diabetes).
- Additional tests, such as analysis of stool cultures, a chest X-ray, checking for rotavirus, or a lumbar puncture may help to define conditions that trigger the development of dehydration.
How to treat dehydration in kids?
If you realize that loss of fluid isn’t dramatic, you can successfully treat dehydration in your child at home. The first rule of treatment – make up for water deficiency in body. Ideally, you need to replace fluids with an ORS (oral rehydration solution), such as Pedialyte, Rehydralyte, or a similar product that can provide sugar and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride).
Alternatively, you can buy Pedialyte freezer pops. But what if you don’t have a possibility to buy an ORS as soon as possible? Make a solution by mixing one glass of water (250 ml) with a teaspoon of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
If a child has been vomiting, give him or her small sips (1-2 teaspoons) every few minutes. The stomach must be still irritated, and a huge amount of fluids can only provoke vomiting again. Kids who don’t suffer from diarrhea and vomiting can drink whatever they want. But children affected by abdominal infections shouldn’t be given fruit and vegetable juices, or dairy products.
In case of vomiting, give your kid cool drinks – they reduce gag reflex.
When vomiting subsides, offer your kid a restrictive diet, for instance, BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast). Avoid feeding your kid with products that have a high content of sugar and fat, as well as spicy foods. Do not give a kid with diarrhea soda, tea, gelatin desserts, milk, and chicken broth. They can make the situation worse because the mix of sugar and salts isn’t optimal.
When you restore the level of fluids in child’s body, follow these guidelines:
- In 8 hours after vomiting has stopped, start giving bland foods. Limit the amount of solids within 24 hours.
- Then add white bread, rice, salty crackers, dried cereals.
- Stop giving non-essential drugs for at least 8 hours.
- Reduce fever using rectal suppositories to reduce the temperature.
Kids with gastroenteritis and other stomach problems can tolerate complex carbohydrates (bread, potatoes, cereals, rice, wheat), lean meat, fruits, and vegetables.
How to treat dehydration in newborn babies?
Unless vomiting constantly, an infant should be breastfed as usual, if not said otherwise by a doctor. During rehydration process, formula-fed babies shouldn’t be given formula. Start with water or an ORS, and continue giving it until you eliminate the signs of dehydration.
If your baby refuses to drink from a bottle or a spoon, try to give water in a syringe (without a needle, of course).
How to prevent dehydration?
Of course, you cannot prevent infections and some contagious disease, but the consumption of fluids on the daily basis is your responsibility. Make sure that your child gets enough fluids when being sick or physically active. As soon as you recognize the sings of dehydration in kids, consider replacing regular fluids with appropriate drinks (Pedialyte and similar products).
Feeling of thirst is the first sign of dehydration. Give your kid water and fluids any time he or she asks for it.
The way of rehydration can depend. A kid with a sore throat may find it painful to swallow, so you can ease the pain with ibuprofen or acetaminophen (they will also help you to control fever). Cold drinks and popsicles can help to suppress vomiting.
During hot weather, you can give more pure water and cold drinks, as well. Kids who play sports and are very physically active should be given drinks beforehand and during the activity.
If you start treatment right away, the signs of dehydration in kids disappear within a few hours. However, if your kid is suffering from severe vomiting and diarrhea that cannot be stopped, you should contact your doctor or emergency. Whatever the case is, do not panic – this condition can be eliminated successfully without any complications.