Self-Help Measures in Treatment of Diarrhea in Children
In children, diarrhea usually passes within five to seven days and rarely lasts longer than two weeks.
In adults, diarrhea usually improves within two to four days, although some infections can last a week or more.
While waiting for your diarrhea to pass, you can ease your symptoms by following the advice outlined below.
It's important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, particularly if you're also vomiting. Take frequent small sips of water.
Ideally, adults should drink a lot of liquids that contain water, salt and sugar. Examples are soup broth or water mixed with juice.
If you're drinking enough fluid, your urine will be light yellow or almost clear.
It's also very important for babies and small children not to become dehydrated. Give your child frequent sips of water, even if they're vomiting. A small amount is better than none.
Fruit juice or fizzy drinks should be avoided as they can make diarrhea worse in children.
If you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby and they have diarrhea, you should continue to feed them as normal.
Contact your GP immediately if you or your child develop any symptoms of dehydration.
Your GP or pharmacist may suggest using an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to prevent dehydration if you're at risk – for example, if you're frail or elderly. ORS can also be used to treat dehydration that has already occurred.
Rehydration solutions usually come in sachets available from your local pharmacist without a prescription. They are dissolved in water, and replace salt, glucose and other important minerals that are lost if you're dehydrated.
Your GP or pharmacist may recommend giving your child an ORS if they're dehydrated or at risk of becoming dehydrated.
The usual recommendation is for your child to drink an ORS each time they have an episode of diarrhea. The amount they should drink will depend on their size and weight.
Your pharmacist can advise you about this. The manufacturer's instructions should also give information about the recommended dose.
You may be able to give your baby an ORS if they become dehydrated, but check with your GP, pharmacist or health visitor first.
Opinion is divided over when and what you should eat if you have diarrhea. However, most experts agree you should eat solid food as soon as you feel able to. Eat small, light meals and avoid fatty or spicy foods.
Good examples are potatoes, rice, bananas, soup and boiled vegetables. Salty foods help the most.
You don't need to eat if you've lost your appetite, but you should continue to drink fluids and eat as soon as you feel able to.
If your child is dehydrated, don't give them any solid food until they have drunk enough fluids. Once they stop showing signs of dehydration, they can start eating their normal diet.
If your child isn't dehydrated, offer them their normal diet. If they refuse to eat, continue to give them fluids and wait until their appetite returns.
Antidiarrheal medicines may help reduce your diarrhea and slightly shorten how long it lasts. However, they're not usually necessary.
Don't take antidiarrheal medicines if there's blood or mucus in your stools or you have a high temperature (fever). Instead, you should contact your GP for advice.
Most antidiarrheal medicines shouldn't be given to children.
Painkillers won't treat diarrhea, but can help relieve a fever and a headache Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with the medication to check if it's suitable and find out the correct dose. Children under 16 years of age shouldn't be given aspirin.
Treatment with antibiotics isn't recommended for diarrhea if the cause is unknown. This is because antibiotics:
- won't work if the diarrhea is caused by a virus
- can cause unpleasant side effects
- can become less effective at treating more serious conditions if they're repeatedly used to treat mild conditions
Antibiotics may be recommended if you have severe diarrhea and a specific type of bacteria has been identified as the cause.
They may also be used if you have an underlying health problem, such as a weakened immune system.
Occasionally, hospital treatment may be needed to treat serious dehydration. Treatment involves administering fluids and nutrients directly into a vein (intravenously)