Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the frequency and looseness of stools. Mild diarrhea is the passage of a few loose or mushy stools. Severe diarrhea is the passage of many watery stools. The best indicator of the severity of the diarrhea is its frequency.
The main complication of diarrhea is dehydration from the loss of too much body fluid. Symptoms of dehydration are a dry mouth, the absence of tears, infrequent urination (for example, none in 12 hours), and a darker, concentrated urine. The main goal of diarrhea treatment is to prevent dehydration.
Diarrhea is usually caused by a viral infection of the lining of the intestines (gastroenteritis). Sometimes it is caused by bacteria or parasites. Occasionally a food allergy or drinking too much fruit juice may cause diarrhea. If your child has just one or two loose stools, the cause is probably something unusual your child ate. A diet of nothing but clear fluids (such as Pedialyte) for more than 2 days may cause green, watery stools (called "starvation stools").
Diarrhea from a viral infection usually lasts several days to 2 weeks, regardless of the type of treatment. The main goal of treatment is to prevent dehydration. Your child needs to drink enough fluids to replace the fluids lost in the diarrhea. Don't expect a quick return to solid stools.
Increased fluids and dietary changes are the main treatment for diarrhea.
Note: One loose stool can mean nothing. Don't start dietary changes until your child has had several loose stools.
Frequent, watery diarrhea
Encourage your child to drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration. Milk and water are both fine. However, if your child refuses solids, give your child just milk, rather than water.
Most toddlers don't need oral glucose-electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte unless the child is dehydrated. Avoid fruit juices, because they all make diarrhea worse.
Keep giving your child table foods while he has diarrhea. The choice of food is important. Starchy foods are digested best. Examples of such foods are dried cereals, grains, bread, crackers, rice, pasta, and mashed potatoes. Pretzels or saltine crackers can help meet your child's need for sodium. Soft-boiled eggs and yogurt are easily digested and provide some protein.
Mild diarrhea (loose stools)
Follow a regular diet with a few simple changes:
There is no effective, safe drug for diarrhea. Extra fluids and diet therapy work best.
Probiotics contain healthy bacteria (lactobacilli) that can replace unhealthy bacteria in the GI tract.
Yogurt is the easiest source of probiotics. Give your child 2 to 6 ounces (60 to 180 ml) of yogurt twice daily. Today almost all yogurts are “active culture”, which means that they contain live and active bacteria.
Probiotic supplements in granules, tablets, or capsules are also available in health food stores.
Kool-Aid and soda pop, should be avoided because they contain no salt and too much sugar. Use only the fluids suggested here.
Fruit juices (especially apple and grape) should be avoided because they are too concentrated and make the diarrhea worse.
Clear fluids alone should be used for only 4 to 6 hours because the body needs more calories than clear fluids can provide. Milk is a good well balanced fluid for diarrhea.
The most dangerous myth is that the intestine should be "put to rest." Restricting fluids can cause dehydration.
Diarrhea can be very contagious. Always wash your hands after changing diapers or using the toilet. This is crucial for keeping everyone in the family from getting diarrhea.
The skin near your child's anus can become irritated by the diarrhea. Wash the area near the anus after each stool and then protect it with a thick layer of petroleum jelly or other ointment. This protection is especially needed during the night and during naps. Changing the diaper quickly after stools also helps.
For children in diapers, diarrhea can be a mess. Place a cotton washcloth inside the diaper to trap some of the more watery stool. Use diapers with snug leg bands or cover the diapers with a pair of plastic pants. Wash your child under running water in the bathtub.
If your child has vomited more than twice, follow your doctor's recommended treatment for vomiting instead of this treatment for diarrhea until your child has gone 8 hours without vomiting.
Call IMMEDIATELY if:
Call during office hours if: