What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis (often called ‘gastro’) is a typical infection of the bowel that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea (runny faeces ), or both. Gastroenteritis normally settles immediately without treatment. Vomiting may last a day or two. Diarrhoea usually lasts for two to three days but can also last up to 10 days. Gastroenteritis can induce dehydration (a loss of water). Babies under 6 months of age are mostly at risk.
What usually causes gastro is a virus, which tends to spread very easily. Lesser causes of gastro include food poisoning or bacteria. Most causes of gastro are not cured by antibiotics.
What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis usually starts with vomiting and then diarrhoea follows. The motions are often frequent, loose, and watery. Your child may cry through thirst, hunger, pain or fever. They may want more sleep. Older children may sometime complain of a cramping tummy pain, while infants may have series of crying associated with cramping.
Gastroenteritis can be mild and treatment is all about fluids. Sometimes most children recover with simple treatment at home.
- Give your child small amounts (a few sips at a time) of ‘clear fluids’ such as water often (a mouthful every 10-15 minutes). The fluids will not stop the vomiting and diarrhoea but tend to stop your child from becoming dehydrated. It is very important to give fluids, even if the diarrhoea gets worse.
- Make sure your child gets enough rest.
- Never give your child medication to stop the vomiting or diarrhoea. These will not work and may be harmful
- If your child continues to vomit, continue to offer small sips of fluid. It may seem it is vomited straight back up, but some is retained and will help prevent the dehydration.
What are ‘clear fluids’?
The best clear fluids for kids are solutions such as Gastrolyte, Pedialyteor Repalyte, which normally replace water, body salts and sugar lost to vomiting and diarrhoea. Hydralyte Oral solution is an alternative. Follow instructions on the packet.
What if I am breastfeeding?
Do not stop the breastfeeding. Give your babies little feeds more often, and offer Hydralyte or Gastrolyte or cooled, boiled water between feeds if your baby is less than nine months of age.
What if my baby is bottle-fed?
- Give your baby Hydralyteor or Gastrolyte clear fluids for the first 12–24 hours of symptoms. Always use cooled boiled water to dilute drinks for babies less than nine months of age.
- If there is no sign of vomiting or diarrhoea after 12 hours, introduce full-strength formula in small and frequent amounts. Half-strength formula might not be helpful, and may be harmful.
Can Children eat their usual foods?
- If your child is hungry give them the food they normally eat or something they always feel like eating. Do not force your child to eat if they are vomiting or feeling unwell. They will start to eat when they feel better.
- Give your child normal fluids and diet in 48–72 hours, even if diarrhoea continues. This will make your child get better quicker.
Stopping the spread of gastroenteritis
- Always make sure that you and your family wash hands very well with warm soapy water after changing nappies, cleaning up vomit, using the toilet and before eating.
- Always wipe things that may be shared between children, such as books and toys.
- Always keep your child away from other children while they are unwell.
- Do not send your child to school, until 24 hours after the last vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Do not let your children share food, drink or use the same cutlery.
Your child may be dehydrated and need a check-up by your local doctor if they have one or more of these signs:
- dry mouth and tongue
- cold hands and feet
- sunken eyes
- lethargy (sleepiness)
- patchy/mottled/blotchy or pale skin
- Not drinking and still has frequent vomiting, diarrhoea or both.
- passing little or no urine (nappies are dry or less than four wet nappies a day)