Signs and symptoms of dehydration

Posted on October 2nd, 2006

Dehydration can be fatal to babies, explains Sister Lilian. But there are ways to combat it.

Dehydration is a life-threatening condition, especially in babies and small children who tend to lose body fluids faster than older children and adults. Diarrhoea and vomiting are the main reasons why babies become dehydrated, although excessive exposure to the sun and not taking in enough fluids may also lead to dehydration.
Sister Lilian explains the signs and symptoms of dehydration and how to treat a dehydrated child.

Signs of dehydration

  • A dehydrated child always appears very ill, often becoming quiet and lethargic, or she may just lay there whimpering softly.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Rapid weight loss.
  • Your baby may have a fever.
  • Your baby’s fontanelle may be very sunken.
  • Dry eyes and eyes that appear sunken.
  • Your baby’s skin will appear very dry to the touch and may look loose and wrinkled.
  • Your baby’s mouth will appear dry and flaky, and the skin around the corners of her mouth may become parched and cracked.
  • Your little one will pass less urine than usual, and it will look darker in her nappy. It may also smell stronger than usual.

Emergency home treatment
Get your baby to drink something after every episode of diarrhoea or vomiting, We often think that we should withhold all food and liquid if our child is suffering from vomiting or loose stools, but precisely this can lead to severe dehydration. Your baby doesn’t need copious amounts of fluids all at once, but try and encourage mouthfuls every five or ten minutes.

Follow these simple steps to rehydrate your baby:

  • Stop giving your baby formula feeds and solid foods.
  • Avoid all dairy products as these often irritate the lining of the digestive tract, making the problem worse.
  • If you are breastfeeding, keep it up as breast milk will be advantageous to your baby..
  • All pharmacies stock replacement therapy solutions. These contain exactly the correct balance of electrolytes that your sick baby needs to rehydrate.
  • Give your baby clear fluids like organic baby rooibos tea or cooled, boiled water. Bear in mind that this is not replacing the lost electrolytes, but is still invaluable fluid replacement.
  • If you have nothing else at hand, flat cola drinks are better than nothing for toddlers. They contain high sugar levels, which is one of the important elements lost in dehydration.
  • You can make up a home remedy electrolyte solution with ingredients commonly found in any kitchen. Add eight level teaspoons of sugar or glucose powder and one level teaspoon table salt to one litre of cooled, boiled water and mix well. Encourage your child to take sips of this solution regularly. The proportions are extremely important for correct electrolyte balance.
  • For children who are very uncooperative in drinking any fluids at this stage, make frozen ice lollies from flat cola drinks or from an electrolyte solution and give your child crushed pieces of ice to suck on.

When to call your doctor
Never hesitate to seek help from your doctor or the closest emergency facility if you are worried that your baby may be dehydrated or dehydrating. If your child does not show improvement within 24 hours from diarrhoea, vomiting and signs of dryness, consult your doctor. If vomiting or diarrhoea become worse or your baby looks increasingly ill, get help sooner.