First Aid for Dehydration

We become dehydrated when our body does not receive sufficient amount of water and other fluids needed to perform its normal functions. When we lose the water in our body (through sweating, eliminating waste, and breathing), we also lose electrolytes, the substance that maintains fluid balance in the body.

Dehydration in children is mainly due to vomiting or diarrhea as a result of a viral infection. This article offers some general first aid guidelines for dehydration in children. Treatment procedures largely depend on the degree of dehydration. Thus it is also important that you identify whether your child has mild to moderate or severe dehydration.

Mild to moderate dehydration

The child has mild to moderate dehydration if he or she has dry mouth, does not urinate for 6 to 8 hours, or has few or no tears when crying.

Here are some of the signs of mild to moderate dehydration in infants: fussiness, no wet diapers in 4 to 6 hours, or slightly sunken or flat soft spot. Other indicators of dehydration of this degree include thirst, headache, and muscle weakness.

Severe dehydration

Your child suffers from a severe dehydration if he or she has a very dry mouth, which looks "sticky" inside. Another common sign is dry, doughy, or wrinkly skin, particularly on the upper legs and arms and belly. Severe dehydration also causes your child to be inactive or less alert, appear limp or weak, and sleepy and disoriented.

Other indicators of severe dehydration include sunken soft spot (in infants), sunken eyes, muscle contractions or cramps, deep and rapid breathing, and weekend or fast pulse. Also, your child may not urinate for 8 to 10 hours (6 to 8 hours in infants).

What to do?

Mild to moderate dehydration in children can be treated at home. If your child has diarrhea but does not vomit, continue to feed him or her normal diet. You must monitor the child’s fluid intake and the frequency of his or her urination.

In case your child has diarrhea and is vomiting, do not feed him or her milk products (especially boiled milk), salty broths, sodas, gelatins, or solid foods.

If the child is more than a year old, give him or her clear fluids – like oral electrolyte solution (such as Pedialyte), diluted juices, ice pops, clear broth, lemon-lime soda or flat ginger ale, or ice chips – 1 to 2 tablespoons every 15 to 20 minutes.

Infants should be given an oral rehydration solution (1 tablespoon every 15 to 20 minutes). If you have a dehydrated infant and must feed him breast milk, give him or her smaller amounts, but more frequently than usual. You should closely monitor your child to ensure that the condition does not worsen.

When to seek emergency medical care

Seek emergency medical care if your child manifests signs of severe dehydration (over 10%-15% weight loss) or cannot keep any fluid down. The child must be admitted to the hospital for observation, continued iv fluid replacement, and further tests to identify the cause of dehydration.