Under normal conditions, we all lose some body water every day in our
sweat, tears, urine, and stool. Water also evaporates from skin and
leaves the body as vapor when we breathe. We usually replace this body
fluid and the salts it contains with the water and salts in our regular
Sometimes, however, kids lose large amounts of water and salts through fever (more water evaporates from the body when body temperature is increased), diarrhea, vomiting,
or long periods of exercise with excessive sweating. Some illnesses
might also prevent them from taking fluids by mouth. If they're unable
to adequately replace the fluid that's been lost, kids can become
If your child has fever, diarrhea, or vomiting, or is sweating a lot
on a hot day or during intense physical activity, watch for signs of
dehydration, which can include:
- dry or sticky mouth
- few or no tears when crying
- eyes that look sunken into the head
- soft spot (fontanelle) on top of baby's head that looks sunken
- lack of urine or wet diapers for 6 to 8 hours in an infant (or only a very small amount of dark yellow urine)
- lack of urine for 12 hours in an older child (or only a very small amount of dark yellow urine)
- dry, cool skin
- lethargy or irritability
- fatigue or dizziness in an older child
The best way to prevent dehydration is to make sure kids get plenty
of fluids when they're sick or physically active - they should consume
more fluids than they lose (from vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating).
How to keep them hydrated can depend on the circumstances. For
example, a child with a sore throat may become dehydrated due to
difficulty drinking or eating. Easing the pain with acetaminophen or
ibuprofen may help, and cold drinks or popsicles can soothe a burning
throat while also supplying fluids.
Infants with blocked noses who have trouble feeding can be helped by
flushing their nostrils with saltwater (saline) nose drops and
suctioning out the mucus with a bulb syringe.
Fever due to various infections is a factor in dehydration and can be controlled with medications or lukewarm baths.
It's important that kids drink often during hot weather. Those who
participate in sports or strenuous activities should drink some extra
fluid before the activity begins. They should also drink at regular
intervals (every 20 to 30 minutes) during the course of the activity and
after it ends. Ideally, sports practices and competitions should be
scheduled for the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the hottest
part of the day.
Thirst is not a good early sign of dehydration. By
the time a child feels thirsty, he or she may already be dehydrated. And
thirst can be quenched before the necessary body fluids have been
replaced. That's why kids should start drinking before thirst develops
and consume additional fluids even after thirst is quenched.
Read more on dehydration.