Millions of children die worldwide each year because of dehydration, often because of diarrhea. As well, the temperature regulation and sweat mechanism of infants are not well developed, and this increases their risk of heat-related illness.
It is important to remember that infants and children are dependent upon others to provide them with water and nutrition. Infants cannot tell their parents or care providers when they are thirsty. Enough fluid needs to be provided so that the dehydration can be prevented. This is especially true if increased water loss occurs because of fever, vomiting or diarrhea.
In children, symptoms of dehydration increase as the level of dehydration increases.
Level of dehydration Estimated fluid loss Signs and Symptoms in Children Level of dehydration Estimated fluid loss Signs and symptoms Minimal <3% of body weight none Mild to moderate <10% of body weight Fussy, tired, irritable child. Dry mucous membranes (mouth, tongue), increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, decreased urine output, increased thirst Severe 10% of body weight or more Listless, lethargic, unconscious. Too weak to cry. Sunken eyes, sunken fontanelle (soft spot of skull). Increased heart rate, weak pulses, and rapid shallow breathing. Cool, mottled skin. No urine output (dry diapers). Too weak to suckle or drink fluids. Loss of muscle tone with the child appearing "floppy."
Infants and children respond well to fluid replacement, and often oral rehydration therapy (ORT) can treat dehydration. Small, frequent sips of fluid replacement solutions such as Pedialyte or Gatorade may be enough to prevent the need for intravenous fluids. In ORT, replacement begins with 5cc or one teaspoon of fluid every 5-10 minutes. If this is tolerated without vomiting, the amount of fluid is doubled, again providing small amounts every few minutes. However, if the child is too ill to drink or cannot tolerate even small sips of fluid, medical care should be accessed immediately.
Intravenous fluids can rehydrate the infant or child while the underlying illness is evaluated and treated. Occasionally, there is difficulty in placing an intravenous line and an intraosseous (inside the bone) needle can be placed, usually in the tibia (shin bone) that allows fluid resuscitation.
In children who are markedly dehydrated, blood tests may be used to monitor electrolytes, kidney function, and acid-base balance in the body.
It is important to find the reason for the illness because dehydration is the result of a disease process, not the cause of it.