Most children battle diarrhea from time to time, but the good news is that it's often caused by infections that don't last long and usually are more disruptive than dangerous. Still, it's important to know what to do to relieve and even prevent diarrhea.
CAUSES OF DIARRHEA
Diarrhea is usually brought on by gastrointestinal (GI) infections caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Sometimes, diarrhea can be due to a non-infectious disease or condition, especially if it lasts several weeks or longer. In those cases, it could be a sign of a food allergy, lactose intolerance, or diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Symptoms typically start with crampy abdominal pain followed by diarrhea that usually lasts no more than a few days. Infections with many of the viruses, bacteria, and parasites that cause diarrhea also can bring on other symptoms, such as:
- loss of appetite,
- weight loss,
- In cases of viral gastroenteritis, kids often develop fever and vomiting first, followed by diarrhea.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR?1
Call your doctor if your child has diarrhea and is younger than 6 months old or has:
- A severe or prolonged episode of diarrhea.
- Fever of 102°F or higher.
- Repeated vomiting, or refusal to drink fluids.
- Severe abdominal pain.
- Diarrhea that contains blood or mucus.
Call the doctor immediately if your child seems to be dehydrated.
Signs of dehydration include:
- Dry or sticky mouth.
- Few or no tears when crying.
- Eyes that look sunken into the head.
- Soft spot (fontanelle) on top of the head that looks sunken.
- Lack of urine or wet diapers.
- Dry, cool skin.
- Fatigue or dizziness in an older child.
Although it's almost impossible to prevent kids from ever getting infections that cause diarrhea, here are some ways to help lessen the likelihood:
- Make sure kids wash their hands well and often, especially after using the toilet and before eating.
- Hand washing is the most effective way to prevent diarrheal infections that are passed from person to person.
- Keep bathroom surfaces clean to help prevent the spread of infectious germs.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating, since food and water also can carry infectious germs.
- Wash kitchen counters and cooking utensils thoroughly after they've been in contact with raw meat, especially poultry.
- Refrigerate meats as soon as possible after bringing them home from the supermarket, and cook them until they're no longer pink.
- After meals, refrigerate all leftovers as soon as possible.
- Never drink from streams, springs, or lakes unless local health authorities have certified that the water is safe for drinking.
- Don't wash pet cages or bowls in the same sink that you use to prepare family meals.
- Keep pets' feeding areas separate from family eating areas.