Dehydration and Rehydration in Children

Dehydration and Rehydration in Children

Find Services and other Health Information from A-Z

Dehydration and Rehydration in Children

Dehydration happens when a person loses more fluids than he or she takes in. Human bodies are made up largely of water, so the right balance of fluids in our systems is needed for good health. Large amounts of fluids can be lost through fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or sweating. Dehydration happens very quickly in the bodies of infants and small children, who don’t have as much fluid to spare. It can quickly become very serious. Rehydration is the crucial process of returning those fluids back to the body to restore normal functioning.

Woman giving girl glass of water.

Signs of dehydration

Watch for the following signs of dehydration (especially if your child has a fever, diarrhea, or is vomiting):

  • Dry mouth or extreme thirst

  • Fewer than 6 wet diapers a day for infants, or less frequent urination in older children

  • Fussy or agitated behavior

  • Looking or acting very tired or weak

Treating dehydration

If you suspect dehydration, call your health care provider. You can treat mild dehydration at home by doing the following:

  • Keep track of your child’s fluid intake and how often he or she urinates.

  • Breastfeed or bottle-feed a sick infant more often, but for shorter periods of time.

  • For vomiting or diarrhea, give your child 1 to 2 teaspoons of an oral rehydration solution (ORS), such as Pedialyte, Infalyte, or Kaolectrolyte, every 10 minutes. Continue until your child can drink larger amounts of fluid without vomiting or passing stool.

  • Avoid soft drinks, tea, juice, broth, or “sports drinks” like Gatorade. These may make symptoms worse.

  • Do not use medications for vomiting and diarrhea, unless recommended by your health care provider.

  • If  your child has a hard time keeping fluids down and becomes very dehydrated, your health care provider may decide to treat him or her in a hospital. There, a health care provider can make your child comfortable and provide fluids and nourishment either orally or through an intravenous (IV) line. Medication may be given to temporarily stop the vomiting and allow your child to drink enough fluid to stay hydrated.

When to seek medical care

Get immediate medical attention if your child:

  • Has fever:

    • Is an infant younger than age 3 months, with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

    • Is a child of any age, with a temperature that rises repeatedly to 104.0°F (40°C) or higher

    • Is a child younger than age 2 years, with a fever that lasts more than 24 hours

    • Is a child ages 2 years or older, with a fever that lasts for 3 days

    • Is a child who has had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Is an infant vomiting all feeds (not just spitting up)

  • Hasn’t urinated for 6 hours or more, or has dark or strong-smelling urine

  • Can’t drink even small amounts of liquid without vomiting

  • Cannot be soothed or is very irritable or restless

  • Seems unusually drowsy, listless, weak, or limp

  • Has muscle cramps

  • Has dry, wrinkled, or pasty-looking skin, sunken-looking eyes, a very dry or sticky mouth, or cracked lips