Although diarrhea in children is very common, it can cause serious health consequences if not addressed and treated. One of the most common causes of diarrhea in children is infection, however, other causes such as food allergies, medication side effects and irritable bowel are common as well. Treatment for diarrhea in children typically depends upon the etiology. When diarrhea becomes intractable, or is accompanied by fever, lethargy, poor skin turgor or vomiting, medical intervention is necessary.
Replace Lost Fluids and Electrolyes
Children who have frequent, loose bowel movements are at risk for dehydration. Fluids should be offered frequently so that the child stays hydrated. Although water is appropriate to offer a child with diarrhea, electrolyte replacement drinks help restore potassium and other electrolytes lost as a result of diarrhea. When lost electrolytes are not replaced, lethargy, weakness and even cardiovascular events such as dangerous heart rhythms may occur. When vomiting accompanies diarrhea, offer small sips of fluid at a time, so that the child is better able to retain the fluid. If the child is unable to tolerate fluids at all, consider offering him electrolyte-enhancing freeze pops.
The BRAT diet, which is a nmenomic referring to bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast, often helps resolve diarrhea. Variations to the BRAT diet include the BRATTY diet, which incorporates tea and yogurt into the diet, and the BRATT diet, which incorporates only tea. The BRATCH diet is another variation, and include the addition of broiled chicken. The rationale behind the BRAT diet is that the foods included are exceptionally bland and low in fiber content. Low -fiber foods are thought to be milder on the gastrointestinal system, as foods rich in fiber content can cause gas and possibly exacerbate diarrhea. While eating plain, low-fiber foods plays an important role in the improvement of diarrhea in children, fluids should still be encouraged to enhance hydration.
When pediatric diarrhea fails to respond to dietary modifications, over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications may be recommended. These medications help slow intestinal motility and calm the gastrointestinal system. Although effective in treating symptoms of diarrhea, they should not be given unless recommended by the child's pediatrician. Side effects from anti-diarrheal medications include sleepiness, constipation, urinary retention and dark stools and tongue. When diarrhea becomes intractable, prescription anti-diarrheals may be necessary to prevent profound fluid and electrolyte depletion.
When diarrhea in children is accompanied by blood in the stool, high fever or severe cramping, urgent medical evaluation is recommended. Rarely, severe, bloody diarrhea may necessitate intravenous antibiotics, while severe abdominal pain and cramping may signal an appendicitis attack.