Beware of Diarrhea Dehydration in Infants, Toddlers

We all dread diarrhea. But when the patient is your infant or toddler, diarrhea can range from a minor annoyance to a medical emergency.

The stools of healthy breast- or formula-fed infants usually have the consistency of oatmeal or cream of wheat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. When diarrhea occurs, the stools become more frequent and watery.

The cause can include viruses, bacteria, parasites, medications, such as antibiotics or food intolerance. Chronic diarrhea with blood in the stools, listlessness, and weight loss can indicate a severe illness.

Usually, diarrhea lasts several days. Its most serious side effect is dehydration. Children need plenty of fluids to replace what they're losing through illness.

Know the signs

Signs of dehydration in infants and young children include a drastic decrease in wet diapers over a 24-hour period, dry mouth, lack of tears when crying, and sunken eyes. Call your health care provider if your child shows any of the signs of dehydration.

To replace the body fluids that are lost with diarrhea, children may drink glucose-electrolyte solutions (for example, Pedialyte or Infalyte). These fluids have the right balance of water, sugar, and salts, and some are available as popsicles. If breastfeeding, continue to do so. 

You should call your health care provider if blood, mucus, or pus is present in stools; if your infant has a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher; or your toddler has a fever of 102 degrees or higher. In addition, call your health care provider if your infant or toddler has diarrhea for more than three days, severe pain in the abdomen or rectum, repeated vomiting, or signs of dehydration.

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