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First Aid: Dehydration

First Aid

Dehydration is when there is not enough water in the body. In children, it is often caused by vomiting, diarrhea, or both.

Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration

Signs of dehydration include:

  • a dry or sticky mouth
  • few or no tears when crying
  • eyes that look sunken
  • in babies, the soft spot (fontanelle) on top of the head looks sunken
  • peeing less or fewer wet diapers than usual
  • crankiness
  • drowsiness or dizziness

What to Do

If your child has signs of dehydration, call your doctor. Mild dehydration often can be treated at home. The doctor may recommend that you give an oral electrolyte solution (such as Pedialyte, Enfalyte, or a store brand). It has the right amounts of water, sugar, and salt to help with dehydration. You can buy it without a prescription at drugstores or supermarkets.

If you can’t get oral electrolyte solution, talk to your doctor. There are other fluids that can help with dehydration.

If your child has mild dehydration and the doctor says it is OK to start treatment at home:

  • Give your child small sips of oral rehydration solution as often as possible, about 1 or 2 teaspoons (5 or 10 milliliters) every few minutes.
  • Babies can continue to breastfeed or take formula, as long as they are not vomiting repeatedly.
  • Older children also can have electrolyte ice pops.
  • Kids can keep eating their regular diet, unless the doctor recommends a change. They may not want to eat at first but as long they are drinking, it’s OK if they aren’t eating much solid foods.
  • Don't give babies plain water instead of oral rehydration solution. It doesn't have the right nutrients for babies with dehydration.
  • Don’t give sports drinks, soda, or full-strength (undiluted) fruit juice. They have too much sugar and can make some symptoms worse.
  • As your child starts to feel better and have a better appetite, you can give less oral electrolyte solution and more of their usual food and drink.
  • Don’t give medicines for diarrhea or vomiting unless the doctor recommends it.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if your child:

  • won't take anything to drink for more than a few hours
  • is under 1 year old and is drinking only oral electrolyte solution (no breastmilk or formula) for 24 hours
  • vomits more than a few times in 24 hours
  • has vomit that's bright green, red, or brown
  • hasn’t started eating some food within 3-4 days
  • has signs of dehydration like a dry mouth, peeing less often (or fewer wet diapers in babies), fewer tears, or sunken soft spot (in babies)
  • doesn’t seem to be getting better

Get emergency medical care if your child is very sleepy or isn’t responding to you.

Think Prevention!

Whenever your child gets sick, give extra liquids or oral electrolyte solution to prevent dehydration. Give small amounts often, especially if your child is vomiting.

Kids should drink often during hot weather. Those who play sports or are very physically active should drink extra fluids beforehand, and then take regular drink breaks (about every 20 minutes) during the activity.

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date Reviewed: Jul 2, 2020

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