How Can Dehydration be Prevented? Dehydration Signs & Symptoms & Causes

3 to 7 years

Created by Anurima
Updated on May 09, 2019

How Can Dehydration be Prevented Dehydration Signs Symptoms Causes
Reviewed by Expert panel

Dehydration means loss of fluid essential body fluids, such as water and salt. Approximately 70% of an infant’s body weight, 65% of a child’s body weight and 60% of an adult’s body weight are constituted by water. Children under 4 years of age and infants are more likely to getting dehydrated faster than older children and adults. It is a serious condition and if overlooked can result in loss of life. It is estimated that half a million children in India and two million worldwide lose their lives to acute diarrhoeal diseases and most of these children are under 5 years of age. Diarrhea can last several days and takes away all the essential salts and water needed for survival. This leads to severe dehydration and fluid loss.

Illness is a major factor leading to dehydration. Bacterial or viral infections are caused by germs which are spread through human contact and cause vomiting, diarrhea or decreased appetite, which can make the child not want to eat or drink. Dehydration can occur if an infant or child vomits too frequently, or has diarrhea or from not drinking enough fluids.

Causes of Dehydration & Types?

The most common types of viral infections that can cause dehydration are:

  1. Rotavirus or RV: Causes severe diarrhea and low-grade fever.
  2. Adenovirus: The symptoms resemble that of a common cold. This virus can infect the lungs, stomach, intestines, and eyes.

Dehydration Signs & Symptoms in Children

Bacterial infections can also result in fluid loss. The following are the most common bacterial infections:

  • Salmonella: Salmonella is passed through food and the most common illness is gastroenteritis or stomach flu, resulting in diarrhea, vomiting and high fever.
  • E.Coli: This type of bacteria is commonly found in raw foods such as sushi or undercooked red meats and causes similar symptoms as those of salmonella. Check what are the mild symptoms of dehydration to watch out for?
    • Decreased urination - No urination for more than 8 hours in older children. In the case of infants, no wet diapers for 6-8 hours.

The following are symptoms that can signify severe dehydration and immediate medical help need to be sought in such cases:

  • No tears when crying.
  • Tiredness or lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Lack of sweating
  • Sunken eyes
  • Rapid heartbeat and heavy breathing
  • In infants, the sunken soft spot on the top of the head
  • Dry, wrinkled skin, especially on the stomach, upper arms and legs.

How Can Dehydration be Prevented?

Dehydration can be easily avoided by drinking plenty of fluids-a total of at least 2 liters a day and also consuming food with high water content. During the summer season, children should be encouraged to drink an additional amount of fluids. It is also very important to maintain basic hygiene to avoid bacterial or viral infections by washing hands with soap and warm water:

  • After using the toilet
  • Before eating or feeding children
  • Before cooking
  • After handling raw meat/poultry.
  • Before giving medicine
  • After wiping or blowing nose
  • After coughing and sneezing
  • After changing diapers
  • After touching animals or birds, such as a household pet
  • After handling trash

Washing hands with soap and warm water for 30 seconds kills 99% of bacteria and other germs.

Tips to Cure Dehydration - Rehydration- Replacing Lost fluids

Plain water is the best option but the child may also be given drinks containing sugar and electrolytes or salts. The lost fluids in the body can also be replaced by a liquid called Oral Rehydration Solution or ORS. ORS can be bought over-the-counter from most pharmacies and grocery stores. It is considered to be one of the least expensive ways to treat dehydration. ORS is sold in sachets and needs to be mixed with one liter of water and given to the child in small quantities and infrequent intervals.

Composition of ORS

The composition of ORS is given here..

Composition of ORS
Sodium Chloride 2.6 gms/ltr
Glucose, anhydrous 13.5 gms/ltr
Potassium Chloride 1.5 gms/ltr
Trisodium Citrate 2.9 gms/ltr

(Source: UNICEF)

An equally effective rehydration solution can also be made at home by mixing salt, sugar and
water. Other forms of raw sugar such as Demerara or brown sugar contain a higher proportion of potassium and can also be used in place of white sugar. Fluids such as carrot soup, rice water, fresh fruit juice, coconut water are other alternatives for rehydration. Drinks which need to be avoided at all cost include soda, ginger ale, chicken broth or sports drinks as can make diarrhea worse.

Nursing infants should continue to be breastfed but the formula should be stopped in case of formula-fed infants. The formula can be gradually reintroduced once the bouts of vomiting or diarrhea become less. ORS can be given to the baby in small quantities, about 2-3 teaspoons every 15 to 20 minutes either with a spoon or an oral syringe. Older children can gradually resume a normal diet and eat foods rich in carbohydrates such as rice, bread, potatoes, cereals, lean meats, vegetables, and milk.
Soft drinks and fruit juices contain a high amount of sugar and should be avoided initially. Children suffering from a mild case of stomach flu or gastroenteritis can eat a normal diet but may need to drink more fluids to replace the number of fluids lost.

Medical help should be sought if a child’s condition does not change after drinking ORS or other rehydrating fluids or diarrhea and vomiting gets worse. It is not advisable to use over-the-counter medicines to treat diarrhea or dehydration in children as they may result in severe side effects. It is very important to remember that giving the appropriate fluids and not medicines, is the best way to treat dehydration.

Parents and elders should lead by example and practice good habits such as maintaining good personal hygiene and washing of hands. Other than that, maintaining a healthy lifestyle through proper diet and exercise to boost the immunity of everyone in the family is also very important.

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This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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| Mar 27, 2018

how can we prevent infants ( I mean 1 month infants) from dehydration.. coz children born in summer may hv this problem ..

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| Jan 31, 2018

my daughter is 4 years old she is having rhinites problem always she will be having s running nose and severe cough during early mornings and after food due which she often vomits after having food. please do help me.

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| Jan 31, 2018

my daughter is 4 years old she is having rhinites problem always she will be having s running nose and severe cough during early mornings and after food due which she often vomits after having food. please do help me.

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| May 19, 2017

Check it out the article highlights the importance of drinking water and provides some appropriate drink options to keep children hydrated.

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| May 14, 2017

we are not in my case

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| Apr 22, 2017

can I give bottled milk when my 9 months old baby suffering from loose motion pls help me?

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| Mar 23, 2015

Hi! This a great, informative article! I've also given my child Econorm, a probiotic powder with her meals to help keep her gut healthy, help with dehydration, help her gain weight and stabilize her metabolism! Mixing it with milk or curd allows my child to swallow it easily too. Probiotics are said to have an overall effect on the body- not only on the stomach and gut but helps elevate mood and laziness too!

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| Aug 07, 2013

Thanks for sharing information

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| Dec 21, 2012

Reading this , I noticed that my boy has been drinking very little water lately, somehow when kids grow older, our focus tends to shift from these things to other things.. Through the day I was after him to keep drinking water and by the time the day ended, he was like, mum, I have had enough water!' A very relevant post Anurima, waiting for more..

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| Dec 20, 2012

Thank you everyone. It is indeed difficult to get children to drink water especially when they fall ill. Encouraging them to keep taking sips of water throughout the day will keep them stay hydrated and help fight off kidney and bladder infections.

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| Dec 20, 2012

Anurima, very nice, your write ups are really simple to understand and follow !

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| Dec 20, 2012

nice one anurima...

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| Dec 20, 2012

Anurima, the article is very informative.

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| Dec 20, 2012

We have to literally run after kids to have them drink water specially in winters. Before couple of days, my daughter used to return her school's water bottle full without drinking even a single sip from it.... I called her class teacher and request her to keep her reminding to keep on sipping water... Water is definitely required to prevent kids from dehydration and to keep their system clean too. lack of water can lead to Urinary tract infections and many other problems also.

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