Dehydration in children

Signs of Dehydration in children

Kids are often at risk of getting dehydrated. While mild dehydration is not a medical emergency and can be helped with fluid intake by mouth, more serious signs of dehydration may require a doctor visit or even hospitalization to require intravenous fluid administration. Kids and babies are at risk for dehydration while sick (especially with a fever or vomiting), during bouts of diarrhea, on hot days, during very active play, or while on certain medications. Babies, especially those under 6 months, are at higher risk of dehydration and complications from it. It’s especially important to watch young children and babies for signs of dehydration. Here are the symptoms to look out for, as well as what you can do to prevent it. 

Symptoms of dehydration in kids

Symptoms of dehydration in kids include dry mouth/lips, dizziness, sunken eyes, decreased urination, dark urine, irritability, or excessive sleepiness. Children with any of these signs, especially if they occur during a situation in which dehydration is a concern (during illness, diarrhea, while excessively sweating, etc.), means you need to provide plenty of fluids for rehydration.

Symptoms of dehydration in babies

In infants, especially those under 6 months, dehydration is a bigger concern. Keep an eye out for dehydration on hot days, or any time your baby is sweating excessively (can even happen to an over-bundled baby on a cold day). 

In a baby, look out for a sunken fontanelle, or the soft spot on top of your baby’s head. It should normally be flush with the rest of the skull, although in some babies it can regularly be slightly lower. Keep track of the number of wet diapers your baby is making. When your baby cries, they may not produce tears (keep in mind tear ducts are still developing in newborns, and some babies don’t begin producing tears until 3 months old or so, so this sign only applies to babies who previously produced tears while crying). Dehydrated infants may also experience excessive sleepiness and/or irritability. 

When to go to the emergency room

See a doctor immediately if your child has a seizure, is vomiting green fluid or blood, is unresponsive, can’t keep foods down, if your baby refuses to eat, faints, or has cold hands or feet.

How to prevent dehydration 

Older kids often will recognize thirst and drink as needed, but kids need reminding sometimes! Make sure they are hydrating often while engaged in active play, while engaged in sports, or while outdoors on a hot day. For long periods of practice or sports play on a hot day, consider electrolyte fluids to quickly replenish electrolytes which are lost through sweat. 

During illness, kids and babies are at higher risk of dehydration as well. Especially keep a look out for dehydration signs while your child has a fever or a sore throat (which may make them reluctant to drink even when thirsty because of the pain). For a sick infant, nurse or bottle feed often. In a young baby, supplemental water or electrolyte fluids are often not needed unless your baby’s pediatrician recommends them, since they already are getting all of their nutrition from liquids. But, pedialyte or a similar solution may be recommended for fluid replacement (discuss with your pediatrician or local pediatric urgent care). They may also not be eating as much, so supplementing with water may unnecessarily replace a nutritious meal. 

If you have any concerns about dehydration, especially in a baby under 6 months, contact your pediatrician for advice, and to find out whether they should need to be seen. If you can’t reach your pediatrician and are worried, your local pediatric urgent care is your best next step. They can advise on further steps as well as help with the underlying cause if it’s illness.