Diarrhoea in Children: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments for Paediatric Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea refers to the frequent passage of loose, watery stools due to an infection of the intestines. This article explores the symptoms, causes, and treatment of diarrhoea in children.

What is Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea refers to the frequent passage of loose watery stools due to an infection of the intestines. The infection may or may not be accompanied by vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain.

Diarrhoea usually lasts for two to four days. Occasionally, it may persist for up to 10 days. This infection of the intestine is known as gastroenteritis.

What Is Gastroenteritis?

Viruses are usually responsible for this infection. The most common virus resulting in gastroenteritis is rotavirus.

Gastroenteritis can also be caused by bacterial infections such as salmonella, camphylobacter or shigella, but this is rare.

Is Gastroenteritis Dangerous?

The major problem with gastroenteritis is dehydration (drying out). This occurs when your child loses too much fluid from diarrhoea and vomiting.

Increasing the amount of liquid intake for your child can prevent dehydration.

How Do I Tell If My Child Is Dehydrated?

Features that may suggest dehydration include not passing urine, loss of weight, tiredness, dry tongue, eyes and lips, and an increased heart rate.

Does My Child Need Diarrhoea Medicine?

The majority of children with gastroenteritis do not need any medication. The main treatment is to ensure your child remains well hydrated.

Occasionally, your doctor may give you some medication for stomach pain or vomiting. Generally, medication used to stop diarrhoea in adults are not used in children due to side effects.

Can you Prevent Paediatric Diarrhoea?

It is difficult to prevent your child from coming into contact with germs that cause gastroenteritis as these germs are present everywhere.
Practising good hygiene habits may help minimise the risk of spreading the infection.
For newborns and infants, bottle hygiene is very important. Milk bottles need to be sterilised either by boiling or with the use of sterilising tablets.
For other children, handwashing before meals and good toilet habits should be taught.
Vaccination against the rotavirus infection is available for young babies.

Treating Children with Diarrhoea at Home

Children less than 12 months old

Breastfed babies: Continue breastfeeding and feed more often.

Formula-fed babies:
Continue feeding your baby with his formula milk.
If diarrhoea persists for more than 10 days, you may consider switching to soy formula or lactose-free formula milk.
Do not feed your baby water only.
If your child is persistently vomiting, take him for a doctor’s consultation.

Children more than 12 months old

Stop solids and offer fluids to your child.
Ensure that your child continues to take sufficient fluids.
If your child is not vomiting, ensure hydration by increasing his fluid intake. You may use oral rehydration solution like Pedialyte or Hydralyte. These solutions are best served cold and may even be frozen to "ice sticks". Alternatively, you may use rice water or barley water. Fruit juice should be diluted with one cup of fruit juice to four cups of water.
When the nature and frequency of the stools improve, you can slowly reintroduce your child to normal feeds.
If your child is vomiting, you can give him a trial of small but frequent clear feeds. For example, you may start with 10ml of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes for one hour. If he can tolerate this, you can increase the volume by 10ml each subsequent hour.
If your child is persistently vomiting, ensure he sees a doctor.
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