I had the joy just before Christmas of our household being struck down with a vomiting bug – so common at this time of year and definitely within the top 5 reasons children come to the Emergency Department. My middle child, who is 3 years old was the worst affected and as I sat in her room at 3am, syringing fluid into her, I thought about writing this blog…
So many children (and their unfortunate parents!) get vomiting bugs each year that we can get a bit blasé about them but children get dehydrated faster than adults and can become really poorly. Symptoms may include vomiting, fever > 38 degrees and diarrhoea. However, just because a child has fever and vomiting, does not necessarily mean they have a tummy bug. There are lots of other potential diagnoses such as urine infection, tonsillitis and even meningitis so if you’re worried that they are getting poorly quicker than you’d expect or things aren’t improving, please get them checked out by a doctor. Always trust your instincts!
Top tips for getting fluid into your child:
1. Oral rehydration fluids (eg: dioralyte) are better than plain water for rehydrating your child as they contain sugar and salt which help the gut to absorb the water. Buy these in plain flavour (often available behind the counter) and flavour them yourself with a bit of juice or squash.
2.Encourage your child to drink little and often – either by taking sips or by offering fluid in a syringe. Old medicine syringes are perfect for this so I keep a stash in my medicine cupboard. Even children who won’t drink from a cup will often take fluid from a syringe. Offer a syringe full every 5 minutes – taking small amounts this way will mean your child is less likely to vomit it all back up again. If they can’t tolerate this without vomiting, they need to see a doctor.
3.Avoid drinks that are fizzy or contain milk as these are much more likely to cause vomiting. Once your child has started tolerating fluids again, and has stopped vomiting, you can consider offering them some food. Start with something plain – like plain toast or plain pasta and build up slowly as they are getting better.
How to recognise if your child is dehydrated:
1. Check they have wee’d – if your child is in nappies, you should expect to see a wet nappy every 6-8 hours. They may not be as heavy as usual but there should be some urine there. If your child is having diarrhoea, it can sometimes be very difficult to tell. If you’re concerned that your child has not wee’d/passed urine for 8 hours or more, they need to see a doctor.
2.Check their lips and tongue – child who are dehydrated have dry, and sometimes cracked lips.
3.Are they crying tears? If your child is significantly dehydrated, they may cry but have no tears – this can be a sign that their body does not have enough water.
4.What is their behaviour like? Children who are significantly dehydrated often are also very lethargic – not interested in playing and have no energy. Young babies may also have a changed cry – it may sound high pitched or they may not have enough energy to make much noise. Either way, they need to see a doctor.
Finally, this may seem obvious but tummy bugs spread like wildfire so make sure you wash your hands carefully with soap and water (alcohol gel does not kill tummy bug germs), and thoroughly clean bathrooms that have become contaminated! It’s also important to stick to the rule of keeping your child out of school or nursery for at least 48 hours after the last vomit or diarrhoea to prevent another family’s suffering!