recognise the early symptoms of dehydration in children

Infants and small children are especially susceptible to dehydration because of their smaller body weight and high turnover of water and electrolytes due to a higher metabolic rate.1 They are also more likely to experience diarrhoea than other age groups,1 which can lead to dehydration if fluids are not replenished. Other causes of dehydration in kids include vomiting and fever.2 Because infants and small children may be unable to communicate the severity of their symptoms, it is important to watch out for the following signs and symptoms and respond quickly if they develop:
  • Sleepiness or tiredness1
  • Dry mouth2
  • Few or no tears when crying1
  • Decreased urine output – eight hours or more without urination for older children and teens and for infants, no wet nappies for three hours.1 Dark yellow or amber coloured urine may also signal dehydration in kids.1
  • Sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on a baby’s head where the bones are yet to close)2
To prevent and manage dehydration in kids, it is important to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.1 Unless a doctor advices otherwise, an oral rehydration formula should be given to a child with vomiting, diarrhoea or fever.1 These solutions contain water, glucose and electrolytes in specific proportions for rapid rehydration and recovery. Child‐friendly rehydration products such as ice blocks or ready‐to‐drink pop tops might be preferable. It is a good idea to begin giving your child fluids from the beginning of the illness rather than waiting until the situation becomes more urgent.1

Warning: Seek medical advice if diarrhoea or vomiting persists for longer than:

  • 6 hours in babies less than 6 months old
  • 12 hours in children in children under 3 years
  • 24 hours in children 3‐6 years
  • 48 hours in children and adults over 6