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What To Do When Your Child has Diarrhoea

It is common in most households to have children pass watery stools, and in many of these cases parents often inappropriately administer antibiotics to resolve the frequent stooling, without relief.

Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5 years old, with about 800,000 dying each year from diarrhea and dehydration in Africa.

In Nigeria, it is the second leading cause of deaths in children, responsible for more than 15% of deaths in children every year.

Diarrhoea is the passage of loose or watery stools at least three times per day. It may be divided clinically into three: acute watery diarrhea –lasting several hours or days; acute bloody diarrhea –  acute watery stools mixed with blood, and; persistent diarrhea – diarrhea lasting more than 2 weeks.

Diarrhoea largely occurs when the digestive tract is infected. This infection may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites and these infections are largely caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. This contamination may be done by the individual or others, such as food handlers.

Poor personal hygiene, poor access to safe water, and poor sanitation are common risk factors of infectious diarrhoeal diseases.

The most feared complication of diarrhoea is dehydration. As diarrhea persists, the child loses fluid from his or her body, depleting the child’s blood volume, and this could cause death.

Examples of diarrhoeal diseases include cholera, typhoid fever, and amoebiasis. However, the most common causes of diarrhoea are viral, most of which resolve spontaneously within a few days without treatment.

Cholera is caused by the intake of food or water contaminated with the bacterium, Vibro Cholerae. It causes severe diarrhoea which can cause severe dehydration and death without prompt treatment.

What to Do for Your Child with Diarrhoea.

Most cases of diarrhoea are viral and resolve spontaneously without treatment. However, the most important thing to do for a child with diarrhea is to rehydrate him or her.

Ensure you begin rehydrating your child before taking him or her to go see the doctor.

Common signs of dehydration in a child include dry lips, dark-coloured urine, weakness, sunken eyes, cold skin, thirst, and low urine volume.

Rehydration involves replacing the fluids the child has lost as a result of the diarrhoea. There are oral rehydration solutions such as pedialyte, which you can purchase over the counter.

However, if you don’t have an oral rehydration solution available, you can make one yourself. How do you do this? Add 6 level teaspoons of sugar and half level teaspoon of salt in 1 litre of clean water and stir. Rehydration alone may be sufficient for the treatment of most cases of diarrhoea.

  • A child under 2 years should receive ¼-1/2 of a 250-millilitre of ORS after each watery stool and a child aged 2 years or older should receive ½-1 250 millitre cup of ORS after each watery stool.
  • To improve the taste of the solution and provide potassium to replace that lost from diarrhoea, you can add ½ cup of orange juice or mashed banana to the solution.
  • Give the child the solution in small amounts frequently. Large gulps will only worsen fluid loss. If the child vomits, wait about 10 minutes then continue.
  • Wash your hands properly with soap and water before giving the child ORS drink.
  • Also, ensure your child drinks plenty of clear fluids and avoids caffeinated drinks, dairy products, and high-fiber foods, which may worsen your child’s symptoms.
  • Don’t give your child with diarrhoea any tablets, antibiotics, or medicines unless prescribed by your doctor.

When to see a doctor for a child with Diarrhoea

  • If your child is not getting better despite adequate rehydration.
  • If there is blood in your child’s stool
  • If your child has a high fever
  • If diarrhea lasts more than a few days.
  • Your child’s doctor will order the appropriate laboratory investigations to determine the cause of diarrhoea, while also rehydrating him or her with intravenous fluids.
  • If the laboratory investigations confirm that there is an intestinal infection causing diarrhoea, your doctor will prescribe appropriate antibiotics.
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