What Is Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is an infection of the intestines that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. It’s usually caused by a virus but can also be caused by bacteria or parasites. The infection can come from touching an infected surface or person or eating/drinking contaminated foods. Spread can occur if an infected person does not wash their hands well.
In addition to vomiting and diarrhea, other symptoms might include stomach ache, fever, headache, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. In most cases, diarrhea resolves after 3-6 days. Usually, no test is required to diagnose viral gastroenteritis. If your provider thinks that bacteria or parasite is responsible, they might test your child’s stool.
Gastroenteritis can be treated as follows…
If caused by a virus, there is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis caused by bacteria or parasites might require antibiotics, but not always.
Supportive care targets preventing dehydration and keeping the child comfortable until symptoms resolve on their own. If a child can drink without vomiting, they should drink small amounts frequently. Oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte are ideal. Older children can drink electrolyte-containing drinks such as Gatorade. Avoid sugary drinks and introduce foods as much or as little as the child can eat. BRAT diets (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) are no longer recommended. Probiotics may also be helpful.
WARNING: Some medicines used for vomiting in older children or adults are very dangerous for young children. DO NOT give your child any medicine unless your doctor has told you to use it for this child. The doctor may give you a medicine to help relieve your child’s vomiting.
Anti-diarrhea medications such as imodium should not be used without consulting a provider.
Sometimes, if a child is severely dehydrated or unable to keep food or liquids down, fluid given intravenously in a hospital setting is required. Check in with a K for Parents provider if you think your child may need to be seen in-person.
Check in with K if…
- You’d like to discuss your child’s condition
- You’d like guidance with supportive care
- You’d like help knowing if your child is dehydrated
See a doctor in person if…
- Your child cannot keep liquids down
- Vomiting lasts for more than a few days
- Diarrhea lasts for more than a week or becomes bloody
- Associated belly pain becomes severe
- your child demonstrates these signs of dehydration:
- urinating less
- dry mouth
- very fussy or sleepy
- a marked decrease in activity
- few or no tears when crying
- wrinkled skin
- sunken eyes