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Diarrhea and Dehydration (Gastroenteritis)

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What is Diarrhea?

If your child has more bowel movements than what is normal for him or if his stools are very watery, he may have diarrhea. Sometimes it is caused by an infection which irritates the lining of the intestines. Sometimes diarrhea is present with other illnesses. Certain medicines may cause some children to get diarrhea. Mild diarrhea is 1 or 2 loose watery stools a day. Severe diarrhea may cause up to 20 watery stools a day. When a person has fever, vomiting, poor appetite and cramps with diarrhea we call it “gastroenteritis”.

Diarrhea can be spread to others:

Diarrhea that is caused by germs can be spread to others. Limit the number of people your child sees when he is sick. The best way to prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands and your child’s hands often. Wash your hands, and your child’s, after touching linen, changing diapers, using the toilet, and before eating. Your child may be placed on "Contact Precautions" while in the hospital to keep from spreading germs to others. This means:

  • Parents/guardians, visitors and hospital staff will need to wash their hands before going in your child’s room and before leaving.
  • Hospital staff will wear gowns and gloves.
  • Your nurse will provide a thermometer that will only be used for your child.

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration happens if a child loses more fluid from vomiting and diarrhea than he takes in. Children become dehydrated when they are not able to drink enough fluid to keep up with the loss. Babies and younger children dehydrate faster than older children.

Signs of Dehydration:

  • Dry mouth
  • Less urine, (infants have fewer wet diapers than normal)
  • Sunken look around eyes
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Older child has no tears when crying (most babies under six months or toddlers do not have tears)

Home Care of the Child with Diarrhea:

  • Continue with regular diet. Give as much fluid as needed to quench thirst.
  • If regular foods cause vomiting, give Pediatyte, Ricelyte or Infalyte.
  • Do not give soda or “sports” drinks. These make diarrhea worse.
  • Try simple foods such as yogurt, rice, oatmeal, toast, rice, crackers and bananas if your child can not eat a regular diet.
  • For babies on formula only, ask your doctor if you should change to soy formula for a short time.
  • Do not give your child medicine for the diarrhea, such as Kaopectate or Imodium, unless you first check with your doctor.
  • Treat diaper rash by washing the skin as soon as it is soiled with warm water only. Apply a skin barrier ointment, such as Vaseline to protect the skin.
  • Do not change diapers in the area where you make food.
  • Put dirty diapers in a plastic bag that can be sealed before it is thrown away.
  • Wash the surface where you change the diaper with a diluted household bleach solution or other cleaner that kills germs after each diaper change.
  • Wash your hands and your child’s after each diaper change.

Call your child’s doctor if:

  • There are signs of dehydration.
  • There is blood in the stools.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea lasts longer than 12 to 24 hours.
  • Your child has a fever – oral or rectal temperature 100.4F or higher.
  • Your child refuses to drink fluids or is less alert Your child is urinating less than usual.

NOTE: A small infant or child will dehydrate faster than an older child, so do not wait to contact your child's doctor.


Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 10/2011

(757) 668-7000