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Dehydration happens when a person loses more fluids than he or she takes in. Human bodies are made up largely of water, so the right balance of fluids in our systems is needed for good health. Large amounts of fluids can be lost through fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or sweating. Dehydration happens very quickly in the bodies of infants and small children, who don’t have as much fluid to spare. It can quickly become very serious. Rehydration is the crucial process of returning those fluids back to the body to restore normal functioning.
Watch for the following signs of dehydration (especially if your child has a fever, diarrhea, or is vomiting):
Dry mouth or extreme thirst
Fewer than 6 wet diapers a day for infants, or no urination for 6 hours in older children
Fussy or agitated behavior
Looking or acting very tired or weak
If you suspect dehydration, call your health care provider. You can treat mild dehydration at home by doing the following:
Keep track of your child’s fluid intake and how often he or she urinates.
Breastfeed or bottle-feed a sick infant more often, but for shorter periods of time.
For vomiting or diarrhea, give your child 2–3 teaspoons of an oral rehydration solution (ORS), such as Pedialyte, Infalyte, or Kaoelectrolyte, every 10 minutes. Continue until your child can drink larger amounts of fluid without vomiting or passing stool.
Avoid soft drinks, tea, juice, broth, or “sports drinks” like Gatorade. These may make symptoms worse.
DO NOT give your child dairy products, which can make vomiting and diarrhea worse.
DO NOT use medications for vomiting and diarrhea, unless recommended by your health care provider.
If your child has a hard time keeping fluids down and becomes very dehydrated, your health care provider may decide to treat him or her in a hospital. There, a health care provider can make your child comfortable and provide fluids and nourishment through an intravenous (IV) line. This will continue until your child can eat and drink again.
Is an infant younger than age 3 months, with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher
Is a child ages 3 to 36 months, with a rectal temperature of 102.0°F (39.0°C) or higher
Is a child of any age, with a temperature of 103.0°F (39.4°C) or higher
Is a child younger than age 2 years, with a fever that lasts more than 24 hours
Is a child ages 2 years or older, with a fever that lasts for 3 days
Is a child who has had a seizure caused by the fever
Is an infant vomiting all feeds (not just spitting up)
Has been vomiting and having diarrhea for more than 12 hours
Hasn’t urinated for 6 hours or more, or has dark or strong-smelling urine
Can’t drink even small amounts of liquid without vomiting
Cannot be soothed or is very irritable or restless
Seems unusually drowsy, listless, weak, or limp
Has muscle cramps
Has dry, wrinkled, or pasty-looking skin, sunken-looking eyes, a very dry or sticky mouth, or cracked lips