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How Do I Know If My Child Is Dehydrated?
Kelly Ochoa, MD
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Dehydration in Children
Many parents bring their child to us in the ER worried their little one is dehydrated. When a child is fighting an infection and has a fever, they need more liquid than normal to stay hydrated, and unfortunately more often than not they are drinking and eating much LESS than normal. This can lead to dehydration. Fortunately, usually it is mild and your child does not need hydration through an IV in the emergency room. But it is important to realize when they do, and what you can do to help them at home.
Stop the Solids and Push the Liquids
If your child is sick and doesn’t want to eat, don’t push it – it’ll just make them feel worse and then less likely to drink. It is MUCH more important they take in fluids than solid foods. Fluids like Pedialyte, sports drinks mixed with water, and popsicles are all good choices. If your child is very young and just refusing to take the bottle or sippy cup, you can syringe feed them liquid. This is labor intensive, but it can definitely help prevent dehydration in babies – give 5mL of liquid every 5 or so minutes with a syringe in the back corner of the cheek. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to help keep them hydrated if they are vomiting everything you give them. In this case, they need to be seen by a doctor who can prescribe medicine to help with the vomiting and prevent dehydration.
Signs Your Child is Dehydrated
You can check if your child is dehydrated at home just like I do in the ER. When I am evaluating a child in the ER for dehydration, I pay attention to how sleepy they are, if they produce tears when crying, I look at their lips and mouth – are they dry and sticky/tacky, is their heart rate very high, are they urinating less than normal, I look to see if their eyes look dark and sunken, and when I press on the tips of their fingers I see if it takes more than 2 seconds to turn from white back to pink. These are all things you can do at home too. If you are worried about dehydration, it is best to call your pediatrician or Health-e Pediatrics for advice. Most of the time it is mild and can be treated at home, but sometimes your child may require an IV for fluids in the ER.
It is common for a child to get dehydrated when ill, but thankfully not often to the point of needing to go to the ER for IV fluids. Don’t try to give solids if your child doesn’t want them – liquids are much more important. Watch for these signs of dehydration and contact Health-e Pediatrics or your pediatrician if your child appears dehydrated to you.