Gastroenteritis is an illness which can have a variety of symptoms and causes. The symptoms usually involve vomiting and/or diarrhea (a sudden increase in the frequency and looseness of bowel movements). As a rule, the younger the child the more susceptible he is to gastroenteritis and the more severe it is likely to be.

A few of the more common causes are listed below:

  1. Viral infections of the intestines.
  2. Bacterial infections or parasites
  3. Food allergies or sensitivities
  4. Antibiotic therapy
Gastroenteritis can have either an acute or sudden onset, or can be chronic and lasting more than 2 weeks. Diarrhea and/or vomiting is usually mild or moderate in severity, and doesn't require hospitalization. The child usually only requires hospitalization if he begins losing a lot of weight, if there is blood in the stools, or if the child becomes dehydrated.

Dehydration occurs quickly in young children and is caused by decreased fluid intake, and increased fluid loss from vomiting or diarrhea. Signs of dehydration for parents to be alert for include:

  • Decrease in number of wet diapers or urine output
  • Lack of tears when child cries
  • Dry, sticky lips
  • Tired and less active than usual
  • Excessive weight loss
In mild cases of gastroenteritis, the child can be cared for at home with your physicians' instructions. Clear liquids such as clear broths, juices, Gatorade, and caffeine-free soft drinks are adequate for fluid replacement. Commercially prepared electrolyte formulas, such as Ricelyte and Pedialyte, are available for rehydration also. These are available without prescription at most pharmacies and supermarkets. It is necessary to make sure that the child drinks more than just water or tea to insure that he is receiving some type of nutrition and glucose. Small amounts (1-2 ounces) should be given at first and increased as the child tolerates it. Soft, bland food can be added after the liquids are tolerated for approximately 24 hours. Appropriate foods include flavored gelatin, soups (not creamed), bananas, applesauce, crackers, rice, and toast with jelly (not butter). Milk and milk products should be avoided for 36-48 hours after the start of clear liquids. Soy formulas may be given in place of dairy milk or milk formulas. Soy formulas are more easily digested than milk based formula.

The above information is only a guideline, and you should follow your physician's specific orders.

If your child is admitted to the hospital for dehydration, much of the above remains the routine. However, IV (intravenous) therapy will usually be started and the child will be allowed nothing to eat or drink for 12-24 hours. This will allow the child to receive fluid and some nutrition through the IV while the child's stomach has time to rest and heal itself. Normally, fluids and foods are reintroduced more slowly than if the child was at home. The reason for this is to be certain the child's stomach will be able to handle the fluids without causing vomiting or diarrhea again.

To prevent gastroenteritis from being spread to other members of your family, good hygiene should be followed. Hands should be washed immediately after changing a diaper or helping a younger child at the toilet. Other children should not drink out of the same glass or cup as the ill child. Eating utensils and glasses should be washed in hot, sudsy water.

With your cooperation and assistance we will be able to get your child healthy as quickly as possible.