The dreaded hour your child wakes up in the middle of the night with vomit in their sheets and hair. You know things will only get worse for a few days. Perhaps some diarrhoea to follow, and the fear that the whole household will become infected.
It can become extremely concerning when your child cannot tolerate food or drinks due to highly infectious vomiting and diarrhoea. Usually caused by a virus, the vomiting typically settles after a few days but the diarrhoea can last up to ten days. It’s often accompanied by a fever and some abdominal pain to complicate things more.
Signs of dehydration
Dehydration is the main concern of parents visiting emergency departments. Children under 6 months of age are of highest risk for this.
Some of the signs and symptoms you child may show if they are dehydrated include having at least half the amount of wet nappies than they usually have, drowsiness, cool to touch marbly (mottled) coloured skin, dry mouth or lips, no tears when crying and a sunken fontanelle (soft spot on the top of your baby’s head).
Older children may be able to tell you they haven’t been to the toilet as often. Questions to ask them include, the colour of their urine, whether they’re lightheaded and assessing them for dry lips or mouth.
How to rehydrate with gastroenteritis
Simple oral rehydration is the most effective way of combating gastroenteritis.
Hydralyte, gastrolyte and glucolyte are three solutions available in pharmacies that contain sugar and other elements good for rehydration. The benefit of these is that they are available in ice blocks or liquid, can be given in syringes, spoons or bottles/cups. Small, frequent amounts are recommended to help keep the fluids down.
Drinking water or apple juice are the two most common mistakes made by parents and carers. Water does not contain any sugar, and apple juice too much, which can aggravate the bowels and make the diarrhoea worse. However, Children’s Health Queensland recommends mixing equal amounts of each together to reduce the sugar content. Sports drinks and soft drinks are not recommended for rehydration in any circumstance.
Solid food and formulas should be recommenced after the first day to help shorten the length of diarrhoea. There is no requirement to water down formula.
Some red flags to look out for include an infant less than three months of age with a fever, blood in their vomit or poo, green vomit and severe stomach pain that does not stop. If your child shows any of these red flags seek urgent medical help.
Handwashing with soap and warm water cannot be underestimated in its effects of combating bugs including gastroenteritis.
All of these tips and tricks will empower your household to be up and running again in no time, until the next bout hits!
Read more about gastroenteritis in kids:
Queensland Children’s Hospital – Gastroenteritis factsheet
Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne – Gastroenteritis factsheet