How to Treat Diarrhea in Kids

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDMarch 28th, 2021
child potty training

Diarrhea is a common problem in people of all ages, including kids. Characterized by loose, watery stools and a frequent urge to go, diarrhea can quickly ruin your child’s day—and yours, too. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of diarrhea and a few time-tested ways to help stop diarrhea in kids. The sooner your child feels better, the sooner he or she can focus on what’s most important: being a kid!

What’s to Blame for Diarrhea?

The majority of diarrhea cases are acute (short-term) and are caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections. These can include food poisoning, gastroenteritis (stomach bugs), colds, the flu, strep throat, and several other frequently occurring illnesses.

Less commonly, underlying conditions such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, bacterial overgrowth, and food allergies can cause chronic diarrhea in children. Chronic diarrhea is defined as loose or watery bowel movements that occur three or more times a day for at least four weeks.

Toddler’s Diarrhea

Also referred to as chronic nonspecific diarrhea of childhood, toddler’s diarrhea is a common reason for illness in young children between the ages of one and five. Toddler’s diarrhea can cause four or more loose or watery bowel movements every day, yet children are typically healthy and growing normally. It usually goes away on its own, but it’s important for parents to monitor for signs of fever and dehydration.

Focus on Rehydration

There’s no magic toddler diarrhea cure, and each child’s ideal course of treatment will vary according to their age and the diarrhea’s specific cause. Nevertheless, rehydration is vitally important for any person with diarrhea, especially children that are more susceptible to dehydration-related medical complications. Help keep your child hydrated while dealing with diarrhea by:

  • Giving them glucose-electrolyte beverages, such as low-sugar sports drinks or oral hydration solutions. Your local grocery store may also offer electrolyte-filled popsicles.
  • Avoiding sugary drinks like soda or juice.
  • Ensuring a glass or sippy cup of water is always within easy reach.
  • Serving your child broths or soups, if he or she feels up to eating.

If your child is a baby:

  • Continue to breastfeed.
  • Keep feeding your baby his or her regular formula, if you do not breastfeed.
  • Avoid giving your baby plain water.

It’s also important for your child to get plenty of rest while battling a diarrhea-causing illness. Too much activity or stress can worsen dehydration.

Use Anti-Diarrheal Medications Wisely

Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications can be helpful for older children when taken according to package directions. However, these medications generally aren’t recommended as a diarrhea treatment for toddlers or young children. One popular anti-diarrheal medication brand recommends consulting a medical professional before giving to children younger than 12.

When to Seek Medical Care

Some children with diarrhea should be evaluated by a medical professional. Promptly seek medical care if your child is younger than 6 months old or experiences:

  • Diarrhea for more than 24 hours
  • A fever higher than 102 degrees fahrenheit
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Signs of dehydration, which include excessive thirst, sunken eyes or cheeks, dry mouth or lips, no tears when crying, and no wet diapers for three hours or longer (a baby may also have a sunken soft spot on his or her head)

Easy Ways to Help Prevent Diarrhea in Kids

There’s no surefire way to completely eliminate the threat of diarrhea—odds are, your child will experience it a few times over the years. Still, there are some easy ways to help prevent diarrhea, including:

  • Thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom and touching frequently used surfaces
  • Limiting sugar-sweetened drinks, especially beverages that include high fructose corn syrup and sorbitol
  • Receiving a rotavirus vaccine (speak with your baby’s pediatrician to learn more)
  • Avoiding tap water if traveling to a developing country

In-Home Diarrhea Treatment for Pediatric Patients

DispatchHealth provider high-fiving a young child sitting in their mother's lap

Nathan Hindman

DispatchHealth brings same-day medical care to your doorstep. If your child needs treatment for diarrhea, allow one of our fully equipped medical teams to provide the specialized pediatric care they need in the comfort and familiarity of your family’s home. Our experienced and friendly clinicians can address dehydration, perform routine clinical lab tests, and treat other gastrointestinal symptoms your child may be experiencing. Following our visit, we’ll send a detailed medical report to your child’s pediatrician to ensure a seamless care experience.

Request a same-day visit from DispatchHealth by giving our team a call, going on our website, or using our app. We accept most health insurance plans and offer affordable rates.

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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