The Stomach Flu in Kids
One minute your child is complaining of a stomach ache, and the next minute you find yourself running to get something under him or her to catch vomit! Gastroenteritis, or the “stomach flu” as it is sometimes called, is a highly contagious illness.
The stomach flu in kids is very similar to that in adults. It commonly causes fever, vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea in children. It can be caused by bacteria, such as those encountered in contaminated food, or by viruses, which are usually spread from person-to-person. Vigilant hand washing is the best way to prevent the infection from spreading to other people in your household.
Although it’s a very difficult illness for your child (and you) to deal with, gastroenteritis is usually short-lived. Vomiting usually resolves after 24 hrs, although it can last between 1-3 days. Other symptoms can include stomach pain and fever. Diarrhea usually follows shortly afterwards, and it can often be 1-2 weeks until stools return to their normal consistency and frequency.
The biggest concern with the stomach flu in kids is dehydration. If you suspect that your child has gastroenteritis, make sure they remain well hydrated by providing small, frequent sips of an electrolyte rehydration solution (like Pedialyte for younger children and infants). These come in liquid, powder, and even popsicle forms. Commercial sports drinks are an alternative for children who refuse to drink other rehydrating liquids because of the taste, but are not ideal because of the excessive sugar added. Start with a few sips, and if your child isn’t throwing up directly afterwards, you can continue to up the amount of fluids given. Don’t push foods on your child while he or she is still in the process of vomiting throughout the day. If your child has more diarrhea and little or no vomiting, give lots of fluids to replace those lost.
Although gastroenteritis usually resolves quickly with only at-home care, it sometimes requires a visit to the doctor. You should bring your child in to see their physician for any of the following symptoms:
– Dehydration (best detected by decreased urination. No tears with crying, dry lips/mouth, and significant fatigue are other symptoms to look for)
– Blood in the vomit or stool
– Bile (dark green color) in the vomit. (Note: green stools are OK.)
– Vomiting which is increasing in frequency after 24 hrs
– Severe, worsening stomach pain
Try not to worry if your child develops gastroenteritis. It is a hard illness to see your child go through, but remember it often resolves quickly on its own. The focus of treatment is on supportive care and knowing what to look for in the case of worsening illness and dehydration. Sometimes, children will benefit from an anti-nausea/vomiting medication that can be prescribed by the physician to ease the symptoms and prevent dehydration. Nevertheless, if your child develops dehydration, he or she may require intravenous fluids for rehydration. Check out this page from HealthyChildren.org on how to manage gastroenteritis.
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