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What are the Signs of Dehydration in Children?

What are the Signs of Dehydration in Children?

Dehydration in Children

Dehydration in children can be easily missed. If missed and untreated, dehydration may lead to issues associated with circulation, imbalanced electrolytes, and out of whack blood pH. These potential side effects of improper hydration affect us all, but children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, with diarrhea and vomiting accounting for the deaths of 300 US children each year and 30% of deaths in infants and toddlers worldwide[1].

Even minor alterations to blood’s water or electrolyte content can lead to potentially harmful consequences in children, like organ damage or death [1]. Some illness put children at greater risk of dehydration: any ailment that results in a sore throat, fever, diarrhea, or vomiting is also likely to result in dehydration [2]. Children are also susceptible to dehydration during or after exercise and heat waves, as they’re not always the best at independently reaching for a water bottle [3].

Why are Children more Likely to Become Dehydrated?

kids swimming

It all comes down to body size and surface area. The smaller you are, the greater ratio of surface area to body mass. For children, this means that they’re more likely to lose heat to the environment than adults in similar conditions. A higher surface area-to-body mass ratio is favorable when it’s hot, as it’s easier and faster for children to cool down. But cooling down quicker also means sweating more. Any benefit gained in cooling down quicker is outweighed by sweating more, and losing more fluid relative to their size than adults [3].

How Can I Tell if my Child is Dehydrated?

If you’re worried your child may be dehydrated from illness, exercise, warm weather, or just everyday play, check for any of these signs:

  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Few tears when crying
  • Sunken looking eyes
  • Less frequent urination
  • Irritability
  • Unusual drowsiness or dizziness

Beyond these possible symptoms, your pediatrician will look for other signs of dehydration. These may include unusually deep or rapid breathing and abnormal temperature, pulse, and blood pressure [1].

Likely, these signs of dehydration are caused by changes in your child’s fluid and electrolyte intake, or failure to properly replenish before or after exercise. If your child loses more water than takes back in, their blood fluid volume will likely be less than normal. In response, their heart will beat faster to circulate the same volume of blood throughout the body. To deliver the same amount of oxygen and nutrients as their body is used to, their heart will begin to beat faster. A faster heart beat is a precursor to the symptoms you or your pediatrician should look for [1].

How Can I Prevent Dehydration in my Child?

kid drinking water

You should encourage your child to drink frequently. This is doubly the case when it’s hot out, or during or after exercise. It is especially easy for children to become dehydrated when they have a sore throat, as they will be less inclined to eat or drink. In this case, Ibuprofen may help alleviate these symptoms, making it more comfortable for your child to resume drinking. Cold drinks and popsicles may also ease a sore throat, while simultaneously providing rehydration.[2]

What do I do if my Child is Dehydrated?

Alleviating dehydration is fairly simple: make sure your child is drinking plenty of water (but not too much!) and getting the proper balance of sugars and salts. Ingesting water with the right kinds and levels of electrolytes can speed your child’s rehydration.

water flowing baby and mother

At Hydrant, we know it’s hard keeping track of the right levels of nutrients for your child, so we’ve done it for you. Using WHO standards of rehydration, Hydrant has created the perfect balance of salts and sugars, to be mixed in 8 oz. of water. It’s a simple, effective way to helping your child back to their happy and healthy self!

 

Writer: Florence Pickles, Oxford Medical Student
Editor: Elizabeth Trelstad, hellobeaker.com

References: 

[1] Steiner, M et al, Is This Child Dehydrated? American Medical Association, 291:22, 2746-2754, 2018 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15187057
[2] Dehydration: KidsHealth. Kidshealth.org (2018). https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/dehydration.html?ref=search
[3] Dotan, R et al, Voluntary hypohydration in 10-12 year old boys, American Physiological Society, 48:1, 104-108, 1980 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=voluntary+hypohydration+in+10-12+year+old+boys
[4] Mackenzie, A et al, Clinical Signs of Dehydration in Children, The Lancet, 334:8663, 605-607, 1989 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(89)90723-X/abstract