Dealing with Dehydration?
My four-year-old daughter was very active on an extremely hot day recently. I wasn't paying attention to what she was drinking, but I know that she did drink throughout the day. She complained about excessive thirst and then started vomiting. What are the symptoms of dehydration in children? And is treatment for children the same as for adults?
Children can become dehydrated very fast -- the amount of water in their body drops below normal and disturbs the body's balance of electrolytes. Youngsters are especially vulnerable because they often don't realize they are thirsty until it is too late. And, of course, very young children simply can't ask for a drink.
The most common symptoms of dehydration are dizziness, flushed cheeks, stomach cramps, leg cramps, weakness, and intense thirst. Fainting and loss of consciousness can also occur. Note that vomiting is not a common symptom of dehydration, although it can make the condition rapidly worse. Something else might have been going on with your daughter in addition to not getting enough fluid. It's worth a trip to her doctor's office.
Untreated dehydration can lead to shock and can even be fatal. Be sure to watch children very carefully on hot days -- they can lose a lot of fluids before symptoms of dehydration develop. Fortunately, this is a problem that you can prevent. Make sure that children (and adults!) drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. Water is fine, but given a choice, children often prefer sports drinks. Avoid caffeinated drinks (adults should also avoid alcohol), which can accelerate dehydration.
If you suspect that your child is dehydrated, get her into a cool room (an air-conditioned one, if possible), and give her cool drinks. A sports drink is best to restore electrolyte balance, but avoid those with artificial colors and other synthetic ingredients. If you don't have any on hand, mix a half-teaspoon of salt and eight teaspoons of sugar with a liter of water. This will do until you can get a sports drink to replace lost fluids, sugar, and salts. Water, juices, carbonated beverages, broths, or gelatin desserts will replace lost fluids but won't restore electrolyte balance. When dehydration is severe -- symptoms include confusion, dizziness, a bluish tinge around the mouth or fingernails, cold and clammy skin, a dry sticky mouth -- call your doctor or immediately go to a hospital emergency room for treatment.