Gastroenteritis refers to a gut (intestine) infection where there is diarrhoea (frequent passage of loose or watery stools). The infection is frequently accompanied by vomiting which typically lasts 6 to 24 hours. The diarrhoea usually lasts 2 – 4 days. Occasionally, it may go on for 10 – 14 days. This article answers some common questions that you may have about your child’s vomiting or diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea in children

What can cause your child’s vomiting and diarrhoea?

Many types of illnesses and medicines can cause your child to vomit or have diarrhoea. Most often vomiting and diarrhoea are caused by a germ called a virus.

Are vomiting and diarrhoea serious problems?

Vomiting and diarrhoea are the body’s way of getting rid of an infection or telling us that something is wrong. Infection by a virus is usually mild and does not last longer than 1 week. Your child should get better if he or she gets lots of rest, liquids, and good foods.

But your child’s illness may get serious. That can happen because vomiting and diarrhoea take water and salts away from your child’s body. If your child does not replace the water and salts by drinking the right liquids, he or she can become dry. This is called dehydration. Dehydration can be very serious if your child is a baby or is very young.

Do medicines help?

Using medicine to stop vomiting or diarrhoea may harm your child.

Do not give your child medicines that:

  • you can buy off the shelf in a pharmacy (for example, Gravol, Imodium, and Kaopectate)
  • were ordered or prescribed for another person
  • were ordered for an illness your child had before

Your child does not need antibiotics for most illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhoea. (Antibiotics are medicines that fight some infections.) Antibiotics do not cure viruses. However, there are sufficient evidences to suggest that giving probiotics can help to decrease the severity and shorten the duration of diarrhoea.

When should your child see a doctor?

Your child should see a doctor if he or she has any of the warning signs for serious vomiting or diarrhoea. The warning signs can be different for each child. Watch your child closely. Pay attention to things that you think are different about your child’s behaviour.

See a doctor if your child has ANY of the WARNING SIGNS in this list:

  • Not willing to drink
  • No tears when crying
  • Vomiting often for more than 4 to 6 hours
  • Sunken eyes
  • More than 6 large, watery diarrhoea in 1 day
  • Stomach pain that is severe and does not stop
  • Less than 5 wet diapers in 1 day
  • Fast breathing
  • Dry skin, mouth, and tongue
  • Very sleepy or very fussy
  • Cool or grayish skin
  • Severe head or neck pain
  • Green vomitus
  • Blood in the vomit or diarrhoea
  • Bringing the knees up to stomach and crying
  • Fever over 39°C, or 102.2°F, for longer than 12 hours
  • Sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on your child’s head if he or she is less than 18 months old)

By Dr Wong Chin Khoon, Paediatrician, SBCC Baby and Child Clinic.

This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine.

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