Dehydration is when the body loses too much water.  When the human body does not have the correct amount of water, it cannot properly function and problems develop.

Children are at a higher risk of dehydration than adults for several reasons:

  • Children are more likely than adults to get viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting
  • Children, especially young children, have a higher surface area-to-volume ratio than adults. This leads to more water loss from conditions like fever, heavy sweating, and burns
  • Young children may not be able to communicate that they are thirsty, and often cannot independently access fluids

Classification of Dehydration

Dehydration is divided into three broad categories, based on the below findings:

  • Mild dehydration (clinical signs may be absent or minimal)
    • May have a reduction in urine output, but this may not be detected by parent
    • May have increased thirst
  • Moderate dehydration (signs and symptoms are now readily noticed) 
    •  Fast heart rate
    • Dry mouth/tongue
    • Irritated, cranky
    • Taking deeper breaths than normal with or without breathing more rapidly than normal
  • Severe dehydration (child has a near-shock appearance, you will be getting very worried)
    • Cool and mottled (blotchy skin color) arms and legs
    • Lethargy, child appears weak, less active, and possibly sleepy
    • Breathing deeply with definite faster breathing

Treatment of Dehydration 

Children with moderate dehydration usually need to be assessed and treated in the emergency department. Treatment might involve getting fluids through an “IV,” which is a thin tube that goes into the vein, or getting small sips of a special fluid designed for children with dehydration.

Children with severe dehydration need to be taken as quickly as possible to an emergency department.  They are in grave danger and will need lab tests and fluids through an IV.

If your child only has mild dehydration, you may be to treat them at home by giving them fluids to drink. You’ll know that the treatment is working when:

  • Your child starts to urinate more frequently and the urine looks pale yellow or clear.
  • Your baby has more wet diapers.

You shouldn’t just use any fluids to treat dehydration.  You want to avoid pure fruit juices, sodas, ginger ale, tea, and sports drinks like Gatorade.  This is because the amount of sugar is much higher than that of the normal fluid in the body.  This imbalance can lead to more diarrhea.  The same goes for chicken broth, except that it is the high sodium that creates more problems.

Some fluids help treat dehydration even better than water, because they give the body the right amount of water and salts. You should use the following fluids to treat your child’s dehydration:

  • Oral re-hydration solutions – The most well-known example of these is Pedialyte. You can buy them in a store or pharmacy. Try to give your child a few teaspoons of fluid every few minutes. If your baby won’t drink it from a bottle or cup, you can feed him or her with a spoon or syringe.
  • Breast milk – Babies who breastfeed should continue to breastfeed.
  • Apple juice mixed with an equal amount of water