Diarrhea In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Helpful Home Remedies

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Diarrhea is a leading cause of death in young children and accounts for 9% of all the deaths among children aged less than five, coming up to about 1,400 children every day (1).

In this article, MomJunction tells you about diarrhea in children, what causes it, and how to stop it with treatments and home remedies.

Diarrhea – How Bad Is It In Children?

Diarrhea is the frequent passing of loose, watery stools, usually three to four times a day. Diarrhea is a symptom that can indicate the presence of a gastrointestinal infection (GI) or disease. It is one of the ways in which the body expels germs, infection, and unwanted or excess mucus from the body.

Food poisoning is one of the most common causes of diarrhea!

Diarrhea is more common in children than in adults, as the former are more vulnerable to germs owing to their developing immune system. Diarrhea can be acute or severe, where acute diarrhea lasts for no more than a week (2). Severe or prolonged diarrhea lasts longer and could indicate an underlying illness.

What’s worse is that diarrhea can lead to dehydration, leaving the child weak. And severe dehydration may require hospitalization!

So what you must really know is what causes diarrhea in children and how you can stop it.

[ Read: Viral Infection In Children ]

Causes Of Diarrhea In Children

Causes of diarrhea could be temporary or chronic, depending on the type the child has. Common causes of diarrhea include:

  • Viral infections such as viral gastroenteritis, commonly known as stomach flu, are one of the common causes of diarrhea. Another infection is rotavirus, which is common during the winter and spring months. In summer months, enteroviruses can cause diarrhea.
  • Bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, shigella, and campylobacter can also cause gastrointestinal infections and diarrhea. Certain parasites such as the cryptosporidium and giardia can also cause the condition (3).
  • Some forms of diarrhea, especially the prolonged ones, can be caused due to food allergies or intolerance to a specific food. For instance, if the child is lactose intolerant, consumption of any dairy product can result in diarrhea.
  • Food poisoning is another cause of temporary diarrhea in children and adults, and can usually be treated with medication.
  • Antibiotics, laxatives, and other medications can also make the child pass loose, watery stool (4).
  • Children with an irritable bowel disease, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease also tend to suffer from diarrhea (5).

Children who travel to foreign countries or new places tend to get ‘traveler’s diarrhea’, which is caused by consumption of contaminated food and water (6). Diarrhea is also one of the side-effects of stomach surgeries.

But how do you know if your child really has diarrhea? Keep reading to learn about the signs and symptoms of this condition.

Symptoms Of Diarrhea

In addition to loose, watery stools, diarrhea can be characterized by other symptoms such as:

  • Increased frequency of stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating
  • Incontinence

Acute diarrhea caused due to GI infections, and food allergies or poisoning usually lasts for less than four weeks. As you know, diarrhea that lasts longer than four weeks could indicate an underlying medical condition and needs immediate attention. It could also lead to complications such as dehydration.

Diarrhea And Dehydration

Dehydration is a severe complication of diarrhea. Frequent watery stools and vomiting result in loss of body fluids made of salt and water, making the child weak and tired. Dehydration can be dangerous for younger children, especially babies and toddlers.

If the child passes loose stools more than twice and is showing signs of dehydration, take him to the doctor immediately. You should also call the doctor immediately if the child:

  • Is passing bloody stools continuously
  • Looks sleepy and dull
  • Has diarrhea for more than three days
  • Is vomiting yellow or green colored fluid
  • Is unable to hold his stool, in case of incontinence more than twice a day
  • Has a fever
  • Has a rash
  • Has abdominal pain for over two hours

Avoid giving the child any medications without consulting the doctor.

[ Read: Bloody Stools In Children ]

Diagnosing Diarrhea In Kids

Consult a doctor when you are not sure why your child has diarrhea. A medical practitioner will be able to diagnose diarrhea in children based on:

  • The information gathered about the child’s eating habits.
  • The child’s medical history, to know if any medications are causing diarrhea.
  • Physical examination to look for signs of illness.
  • Abdominal examination can help in determining the site and organ involved.
  • Blood tests to check for infection and rule out certain illnesses.
  • Stool routine and microscopy followed by stool culture if required.
  • Stool culture test, where a sample of the child’s stool is taken for examination.
  • Fasting tests, where the child’s allergy or intolerance to specific foods is tested. The doctor may ask you to avoid giving the child dairy products, wheat or gluten rich foods, nuts and other common allergens.
  • Sigmoidoscopy, where the doctor uses a medical instrument to examine the rectum of the child.
  • Colonoscopy, which is a detailed examination of the colon.

After a thorough diagnosis, the doctor will recommend the ideal course of treatment.

Diarrhea Treatment For Kids

The treatment for diarrhea in children depends on what’s causing it. In most cases of acute diarrhea, a fluid replenishment is the only treatment needed. Medication may be necessary in some cases to stop diarrhea and prevent excess loss of body fluids if the condition persists for over 24 hours.

  • Rehydration is one of the best ways to treat diarrhea in children. However, water alone will not have the necessary salts and nutrients. So give the child an oral re-hydration solution at frequent intervals throughout the day. Talk to the doctor before you do so.
  • If oral re-hydration solutions are not available, mix half-a-spoon of salt and half-a-spoon of sugar in a glass of water and mix it well before giving it to the child.
  • Diarrhea-stopping medicines can be recommended in a case of severe diarrhea, to prevent excess loss of body fluids. Medications are not given in the case of bacterial or parasitic infections, as stopping diarrhea will trap the infection-causing parasites inside the body (3).
  • A healthy diet with foods minimizes the symptoms. Below is a list of foods a child should and should not eat when suffering from diarrhea.

Foods to avoid:

  • Caffeinated and carbonated sweet drinks or sodas
  • Packaged fruit juices
  • Sweetened gelatin desserts
  • Dairy (especially milk), gluten, soy, sesame, and other allergens in case diarrhea is due to food allergy
  • Full fruit juices can cause diarrhea as they may contain high amounts of sugar
  • Gassy fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, berries, corn, and prunes.

Foods to eat:

Most doctors say it is okay to continue eating solid foods when the child has diarrhea. The best bet is the BRAT Diet that includes bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast (dry) as it is gentle on the intestines. Other foods that can be eaten when the child has diarrhea include (7):

  • Pasta
  • Boiled or cooked eggs
  • Baked or boiled lean meats
  • Cooked vegetables such as carrots, beets, acorn squash, green beans, asparagus tip, and mushrooms
  • Baked potatoes
  • Cereals such as oatmeal, cornflakes, and wheat (unless your child is allergic to gluten)
  • Pancakes, waffles, and other foods made from white flour
  • Cornbread with little honey or agave syrup
  • Yogurt – culture in yogurt is good for the gut

In case of severe diarrhea, the child may need to be given IV fluids at a hospital, even if for a few hours, to fight dehydration.

You could try a few more things at home if the diarrhea is not severe.

[ Read: Egg Recipes For Kids ]

Home Remedies For Diarrhea In Children

As mentioned earlier, most cases of diarrhea can be treated through a healthy diet consisting of liquids and solid foods that are easy on the intestines. But if you want to know how to stop diarrhea in kids, you should read about these home remedies.

  • Ginger can stop diarrhea and also eliminate the bacteria or parasites causing the infection in the abdomen. Boil a small stalk of ginger in a cup of water. Give it to the child once it cools. You can add a teaspoon of honey to sweeten the juice for the child.
  • Lemon has antibacterial properties and can work well in treating diarrhea. A glass of lemon juice, three to four times a day, can neutralize the bacteria causing diarrhea.
  • Potatoes have starch that can harden the stool and prevent frequent watery stools, and hence dehydration.
  • Starchy liquid from boiled white rice or white rice can also be given to the child to stop diarrhea. Add extra water when boiling rice. Once the rice is fully cooked, drain the water into a glass, add a bit of salt to it and give it to the child.
  • Black tea has tannic acid that can soothe an upset stomach and ease the symptoms of diarrhea. Give the child two to three cups of black tea (non-caffeinated) a day, to ease the condition.
  • Chamomile tea can help fight stomach infections, which makes it an excellent home remedy for diarrhea in kids. Boil tablespoon of chamomile in a cup of water. Once it cools, strain it and give it to the child to drink two or three times a day.
  • Yogurt is a natural probiotic with good bacteria that can ease symptoms of diarrhea caused due to a bacterial infection.
  • Fenugreek seeds have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and can help in alleviating the symptoms of diarrhea. Boil two cups of water with a spoonful of fenugreek seeds, strain it, and let it cool. Add a teaspoon of honey to it and give small quantities of the water to the child.
  • Bananas have potassium and pectin which help in hardening of the stool. By retaining the water in the body, it also restores the electrolyte count.

Ground cinnamon and orange peel can also be mixed with water and given to the child to stop diarrhea. The best remedy for diarrhea in children is to give them plenty of fluids and a healthy diet consisting of diarrhea-stopping foods. Make sure that the child also gets a lot of rest to restore the energy, and get back on his feet sooner. Diarrhea is a curable symptom when attended to early on.

[ Read: Vomiting In Kids ]

Do you have any tips on dealing with diarrhea in children? Share them with us in the comments section.

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