7 Signs And Symptoms Of Dehydration In Toddlers

Dehydration In Toddlers

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Dehydration in toddlers may happen in the summers or even during bouts of infection. The avenues of water loss are aplenty from excessive sweating to chronic diarrhea. But parents can address dehydration and conveniently prevent it too. Read on as MomJunction doles out essential information on dehydration in toddlers.

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration is the condition where the body loses more water than it receives. It creates a scarcity of water for essential body functions eventually disrupting normal metabolic processes. Toddlers are the most susceptible group to dehydrate as their smaller bodies hold lesser fluid reserves (1).

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What Causes Dehydration In Toddlers?

Toddlers can lose fluids through several ways, thus resulting in diarrhea:

  1. Diarrhea is the leading cause of water loss among toddlers (2). The condition arises due to chronic loose stools caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection, and even food allergy. The condition causes a rapid water loss from the toddler’s body, thus, leading to dehydration.
  1. Vomiting rapidly depletes the body’s fluid reserves, just as diarrhea does.
  1. The high body temperature during a fever makes the body lose water quickly, especially when the toddler sweats.
  1. High heat and humidity lead to excessive sweating, which can lead to dehydration and heat stroke (3). Toddlers who play a lot in the outdoors can be prone to this form of dehydration. Your toddler may not be able to tell you about dehydration but their body gives you enough signals.

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What Are The Signs Of Dehydration?

Look out for these symptoms (4):

  1. Dry mouth is the earliest sign of dehydration in toddlers. You notice lesser salivation , and the mouth appears sticky with dry lips.
  1. There is no urination for at least three hours.
  1. There are fewer tears than normal when the toddler cries.
  1. The toddler’s eyes appear sunken into the sockets.
  1. The toddler’s soft spot at the top of the head called fontanelle appears shrunk when touched.
  1. Dry, chapped skin as it gets drier than normal, and you may see it cracking and chapping.
  1. The toddler would be disinterested in any activity. He will have lower levels of concentration and would act fussy when coaxed to do something.

If the toddler suffers from an underlying infection, then there could be consistent diarrhea, which leads to dehydration. When dehydration is only due to vomiting or overheating, then the bowel movement will be infrequent, and stools would be harder.

But in some cases, you might have to see a pediatrician.

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When To Rush To A Doctor?

Take the toddler to a doctor when you see the following signs:

  • Drowsiness and semi-unconsciousness
  • Repeated vomiting and diarrhea for 24 hours
  • Disorientation, and the baby does not respond appropriately
  • Urination happens only once or twice in 24 hours

Chronic vomiting and diarrhea cause rapid fluid loss while infrequent urination indicates that dehydration has begun already. This is when the toddler must be taken to a doctor for diagnosis.

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How Is Dehydration Diagnosed?

Pediatricians look for symptoms mentioned earlier and proceed to the following diagnostic methods:

  • Blood test helps understand the levels of sodium and potassium in the blood. If they are low, then it is a case of dehydration. Presence of a pathogen is also determined through a blood test.
  • Urine test checks for concentrated urine, which is a tell-tale sign of dehydration and an indicator of low fluid levels in the body.

Keep reading to find out the ways to treat dehydration.

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How Is Dehydration In Toddlers Treated?

Replenishing the lost fluids is the only treatment for dehydration, but treating the underlying cause is also important. Here is how dehydration is treated (5):

1. Oral rehydration:

Oral rehydration salts, better known as ORS, are over-the-counter medicine for rehydration of toddlers. You can either purchase a readymade rehydration drink or buy an ORS powder to dissolve in drinking water. A single pouch is usually dissolved in a liter of water but look for manufacturer’s instructions. The next step is the oral rehydration process.

Oral rehydration process:

i. Oral rehydration process spans over four hours.

ii. The volume of ORS solution depends on a toddler’s weight. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends multiplying the toddler’s weight in kilograms with 75 to arrive at ORS volume in milliliters (6).

iii. For example, if the toddler weighs 10kg, you will need to give him 750ml of ORS solution in four hours.

iv. Give one or two teaspoons (5 or 10ml) of ORS solution with a spoon or oral syringe every few minutes.

v. After four hours, assess the toddler’s condition.

If the toddler’s pediatrician suggests a higher volume of ORS, then follow the doctor’s recommendation. Repeat the rehydration procedure if the toddler is still very dehydrated.

2. Intravenous rehydration:

Extreme cases of dehydration have to be dealt with an intravenous (IV) fluid infusion. It is required when the toddler becomes semi-conscious, unresponsive, and develops severe lethargy. IV fluids are administered only at a hospital under the doctor’s supervision.

3. Antibiotic, antiviral, and analgesic medication:

Antibiotics and antiviral medicines do not treat dehydration but cure the underlying infection that leads to vomiting and diarrhea. Fever is cured using analgesic medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. These medicines are administered as per the doctor’s prescription.

Oral rehydration along with some medicines is perhaps all you need to cure a preschooler’s dehydration. But the care does not end there. You could also use a few home remedies.

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What Are The Home Remedies For Dehydration?

Follow these steps at home to relieve the toddler’s dehydration:

  • Feed foods that hydrate: Make the toddler eat fruits with high water content, such as watermelon and bananas. You can also give fresh and tender coconut water. Feed diluted fruit purees, vegetable or chicken broth, and preparations with high water content such as khichdi. Yogurt is also a good option against dehydration.
  • Give plenty of water: Give sips of water at regular intervals and increase the frequency when the weather is hot or humid.

Do not give fruit juice and commercial sports drinks as they contain high sugar and sodium, which can increase dehydration levels (7). If the toddler suffers from diarrhea, then cut down on milk since it can aggravate loose stools. You may also consult a pediatrician or a pediatric dietician to know what foods suit your toddler. Once the toddler is back to good health, feed them the usual way.

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How To Prevent Dehydration In Toddlers?

Preventing dehydration involves mitigating the loss of surplus fluids from the body. Here is what you should do:

  • Keep the toddler hydrated. Make sure they get adequate fluids in accordance with their lifestyle and weather. Toddlers who spend a lot of time outdoors need more water than those who play indoors. Fluid loss through sweating is higher in humid conditions; therefore the toddler must have regular sips of water. You can add mint leaves or a bit of lime juice to the water.
  • Prevent infections of the gastrointestinal tract as they can lead to diarrhea and vomiting – conditions that cause fluid loss. Maintain hygiene and teach your toddler healthy habits such as washing hands before and after meals and when coming back home from outside. Preventing infections also minimizes the risk of fever, which is another cause of dehydration.
  • Experts recommend dressing your toddler in light weight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothes in hot and humid weather (8). Heat dissipation is better in such outfits, thus reducing the possibility of overheating and dehydration.

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Having an adequate fluid intake is the key to prevent dehydration in toddlers. Remember, the more active your toddler, the more water they will need. Staying vigilant helps detect dehydration early. Rehydration and some care will bring back the preschooler to normal.

Have any more tips to prevent dehydration in toddlers? Then let us know in the comments section below.

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Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo took writing as a profession right after finishing his MBA in Marketing. Earlier he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Botany & Zoology from the autonomous St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. Rohit has also done a Stanford University certification course on breastfeeding. This botanist-zoologist turned writer excels at life sciences, and at MomJunction he writes everything about pediatrics and maternal care. In between writing and being overly curious, he spends time cooking, reading, and playing video games. LinkedIn profile – linkedin.com/in/rohit-garoo-263115aa
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