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  • Writer's pictureDr Claudine DeMunter

Vomiting & Dehydration, Risks & How To Avoid Them

Children can vomit at all ages. Vomiting is a non-specific sign and has many different causes. When dealing with a vomiting baby or child, the parents need to understand why the child is vomiting, recognise signs of severity and know how to avoid dehydration.

Babies and children can vomit for a variety of reasons. The majority of vomiting episodes are linked to gastroenteritis or food poisoning. However, some can be related to serious illnesses, and depending on the age of the child, these can vary. To help understand why your baby or child vomits, it is important to note whether your baby or child presents with any other sign: fever, loss of appetite, rash, floppy/tired behaviour, associated pain which could be anywhere from head to foot, diarrhoea or lack of stool production, and aspect of the stools, presence of blood, or if there has been a recent fall or possible medications taken. You will be asked if your child produces urine normally, often enough, or too often. You will be asked if your child drinks well, even if he/she has not eaten as per his/her normal appetite.

For those children or babies who vomit and for whom this is due to gastroenteritis or food poisoning, the main risk is dehydration. This risk is increased if they also have a fever or if they have diarrhoea. With vomiting or diarrhoea, comes not only the loss of water, but also the loss of minerals like sodium, potassium, and chloride. These minerals play a crucial role in regulating the body’s organs and fluid balance.

While missing solid meals for a day or 2 will cause no harm to an otherwise healthy baby or child, it is important that the vomiting baby/child drinks water to take care of the normal daily needs and extra water to make up for the extra fluid loss. If the baby or child does not or cannot drink normal volumes of water, it is important to offer frequent sips of water and make sure the daily requirement is met. Some children will also have water as ice chips to suck on.

If the vomiting lasts longer than a day, it may be necessary to see a doctor who will confirm the diagnosis and assess the level of hydration. If this is due to gastroenteritis, you will be recommended a commercial rehydration solution to help replace the lost minerals like sodium and potassium. Older children may ask for commercial drinks but these should be used with care as they replace water and minerals, but they also contain large amounts of sugar which can make the diarrhoea worse. A child who wants a change from plain water may enjoy sips of fruit juice diluted half-and-half with water or flat soda.

Signs of dehydration: A baby or child too ill to drink water, listless, a dry mouth, fewer tears, and passes urine less frequently. If any of these signs are present you should see urgent medical attention.

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