Dehydration in Children

boy drinking mineral water from the plastic bottle

Our bodies use, and lose, water throughout the day through normal functions like sweating, urinating, and even breathing. When we lose more water than we take in, it leads to a state called dehydration, which is dangerous for adults and even more so for children.

We refresh our supply of hydrating fluids, along with other important substances like electrolytes and sodium, with the food and drink we consume. But sometimes, kids don’t get enough fluids, or they lose too much due to other factors.

Ideally, children spend a lot of time running around – playing, practicing sports, etc. – which means they’re working up a sweat and breathing hard; this increases during warm weather. Kids are less likely than adults to remember or think about stopping to sip water at regular intervals, so it’s important to remind and encourage them; mixing water with sports drinks can make it more enticing to take hydration breaks.

Illness can also cause kids to become dehydrated: symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea cause the body to lose fluids rapidly, and a fever can raise the body temperature enough to cause sweating. It’s essential to replace these fluids quickly, but a sore throat, from the flu or after vomiting, can it make it uncomfortable to eat or drink, and an upset stomach makes it unappealing too. Your child may be reluctant to get enough fluids on their own, so you’ll need to watch and encourage them to do so; sports drinks, water, high-liquid foods like broth or soup, and drinks like Pedialyte are all good options.

Kids may tell you when they’re thirsty or have a dry mouth (although at this point dehydration may have already begun), so you can get some water. Symptoms they may not notice include lethargy, decreased urination, dizziness, headache, constipation, or a rapid heartbeat; dry skin and a lack of tears when crying also point to a loss of fluids. In infants, fussiness, excessive sleepiness, and diapers that remain dry for several hours can all be signs of dehydration. If you notice these symptoms in your child, give them water right away to rehydrate. If symptoms are severe or the child is unusually lethargic, delirious, or faints, seek immediate medical attention. Prolonged vomiting, diarrhea, or an inability to keep fluids down for more than a couple of days are also reason to consult a doctor.

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