Don’t Ignore Diarrhea in Children
Young children often pick up infections, leading to diarrhea and a stomachache.
Diarrhea in a young child is often a sign of simple infection. It should clear up quickly, but don’t ignore the situation. In young children and babies with diarrhea, dehydration can set in quickly and be very dangerous.
Causes of Diarrhea in Children
Diarrhea can strike children of any age, but tends to be more frequent and problematic in younger children and babies. The most frequent cause of diarrhea is an infection by a parasite, bacteria, or virus — especially the rotavirus.
“In children preschool age and younger, it’s usually a sign of infection,” says Marsha H. Kay, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist and head of pediatric endoscopy at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. “The main issue is that there are a lot of different infections that they can get that they don’t have immunity to yet.”
Dr. Kay says another common cause of diarrhea is “toddler’s diarrhea,” a result of drinking too much juice or other sugary drinks. A child’s gastrointestinal system becomes overwhelmed by all the fluid and sugar, resulting in diarrhea. This can be easily prevented by limiting the amount of juice and other sugary drinks that your child consumes, notes Kay.
Other triggers that are causes of diarrhea include:
- Sensitivities or allergies to certain foods, such as dairy products
- Side effects of antibiotics
- Other illnesses or health conditions, like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
- Too much candy or sugary foods
Diarrhea Symptoms in Children
Diarrhea is characterized by loose, watery, and runny stools. Children usually feel the urge to have a bowel movement frequently throughout the day and may also experience abdominal pain and cramping. If the diarrhea is caused by an infection, your child may also have nausea and vomiting, a loss of weight, fever, no desire to eat or drink anything, and signs of dehydration.
Dehydration is a serious concern for anyone, but it is a particularly precarious situation for young children and infants. Infants can become dangerously dehydrated quickly, so keep an eye out for these signs of dehydration when your child has diarrhea:
- Producing little to no urine, which may be dark in color
- Being very thirsty
- Crying without making tears
- Having a dry mouth or skin that seems dry or firm (lacking elasticity)
Treating Diarrhea in Children
To prevent dehydration, make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids during any bout with diarrhea. Medication to manage the diarrhea isn’t usually necessary, but if it continues for more than 24 hours, you may need to see a pediatrician to treat a potential infection. Also, be sure to discuss with your pediatrician what type of fluid you should be giving your child when he has diarrhea.
Diarrhea may simply clear up and your child can quickly get back to normal, but there are signs that you should call to your child’s pediatrician.
Kay says to contact your doctor if the diarrhea hasn’t stopped or you see blood in it. Also, contact a medical professional if the child has a fever or can’t maintain proper hydration.
A quick bout of diarrhea doesn’t have to become a dangerous digestive health concern — just give your child plenty of water and some mild foods until he’s feeling better again. But watch for worsening symptoms or signs of dehydration and always call your pediatrician if you need that extra reassurance.