What is Diarrhea and What Causes it?
Diarrhea is not uncommon in childhood and is not always something for parents to panic about. Diarrhea (loose, watery, and runny stool) is actually the body’s way of getting rid of germs. Most episodes last a few days to a week, and can occur with fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping. (1)
Diarrhea is commonly caused by an infection from a parasite, bacteria (e.g., salmonella) or virus (rotavirus). (1)
Use of certain medications, food poisoning, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and celiac disease are accompanied by diarrhea. Gluten or lactose sensitivity, dairy allergy, and other food allergies or sensitivities may also cause diarrhea.
In very young children, consumption of too much juice or other sugary drinks can also lead to “toddler’s diarrhea.”
Dehydration: a Complication of Diarrhea
The most common side effect of diarrhea is dehydration. “Mild diarrhea usually doesn’t cause significant fluid loss, but moderate or severe diarrhea can.” (1)
The FDA warns that if the bout of diarrhea lasts longer than 24 hours, young children are at risk of dehydration.
This can occur as the diarrhea flushes out essential fluids containing salts, potassium, electrolytes and other minerals the body needs to function. Severe dehydration can result in seizures, coma, organ failure and, rarely, death.
Signs of dehydration include:
• Dizziness, lightheadedness
• Dry, sticky mouth, lips and tongue
• Dark yellow urine, or very little or no urine for 3 hours or more
• Few or no tears when crying
• Cool, dry skin, lacking elasticity
• Lack of energy
• Racing heartbeat
• Sunken eyes can occur later
Prevention and Treatment of Diarrhea and Dehydration in Young Children
Benjamin Ortiz, M.D., a pediatrician in the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Pediatric Therapeutics says that mild diarrhea is a discomfort, but not dangerous if the child continues to drink and eat a regular diet.