- Reference Number: HEY-981/2022
- Departments: Emergency Department, Paediatrics
- Last Updated: 14 January 2022
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This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about your child’s condition. Most of your questions should be answered by this leaflet. It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and the healthcare team, but may act as a starting point for discussion. If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team caring for your child.
What is Gastroenteritis?
This is an infection caused by either a virus or bacteria that causes diarrhoea and vomiting, and may result in dehydration.
Your child may have some of the following symptoms of gastroenteritis:
- Nausea (feeling sick)
- Vomiting (being sick)
- Diarrhoea (loose stools)
- A high temperature
- Tired and miserable
- Back and stomach pain
There is a risk of your child becoming dehydrated – you may notice that they have dark circles under their eyes and babies may have a sunken fontanelle (the soft spot at the top of their head).
In some cases, for example prolonged illness or bloody diarrhoea, we may send samples of your child’s stools for testing. This is to find out which virus or bacteria is causing your child’s illness. The results can take up to 48 hours to come back.
As there is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis, we do not routinely give antibiotics for children with diarrhoea and vomiting. We do not give medicine to stop diarrhoea either. The most important treatment is to make sure your child gets enough fluids and does not become dehydrated:
- If your baby is breast or bottle fed, then encourage them to take their normal feeds.
- Try to avoid fizzy drinks and fruit juices.
- It is important that your child does not drink just water, as it does not contain any of the sugars and salts they need. You can give them baby juice or squash, but not sugar free varieties.
- Offer your child regular drinks in small amounts, starting with a sip at a time. Do not let them gulp it down, even if they are thirsty, as this may make them sick.
- Ice lollies can be really helpful.
Any child that is sick after most drinks may be offered a special drink called Dioralyte™. This replaces sugars, salts and fluids lost. Dioralyte™ is a powder mixed with the correct amount of water or squash (directions are on the packet). Your child may need encouragement to drink it. Use of a straw or syringe can be successful.
Diarrhoea normally lasts 5 to 7 days, however your child can continue to have loose stools for up to 2 weeks. Vomiting normally lasts for 1 to 3 days. When your child stops being sick gradually reintroduce their normal milk feed if they are a baby or for older children try a light snack, such as a plain biscuit or toast.
If your child is unable to keep fluids down and is becoming dehydrated, they may need to be admitted to the ward. When on the ward we will monitor their fluid intake and hydration level. We may need to supplement this by giving your child fluids through a small tube we place from your child’s nose into their stomach (nasogastric tube). Alternatively we may give fluids through a small tube into a vein (IV).
This video contains some good advice:
Preventing further problems
- Always wash your hands before and after touching your child. The risk of spreading illness is higher when changing a baby’s nappy, or taking your child to the toilet. Washing your hands will reduce the risk of spreading the illness to yourself and other family members.
- Make sure all bottles, bowls, plates and cutlery are washed thoroughly or sterilised if necessary.
- Before preparing food wash your hands and make sure the work surfaces are clean.
- Do not use foods after its ‘Use By’ date.
- Make sure raw meat and fish are kept away from other foods and are cooked thoroughly.
- Do not share a towel with your child while they have diarrhoea and vomiting.
- Your child should not go to school or nursery until 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea and vomiting.
- Your child should not go swimming for 2 weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea and vomiting.
After leaving hospital
Continue to encourage your child to take fluids and introduce food or milk. Remember loose stools may take up to 2 weeks to resolve. See a doctor if your child stops drinking or has fewer wet nappies than usual.
Your child needs to be seen urgently if they become dehydrated, have dry nappies, not going to toilet for a wee, or becomes sleepier.
By law the hospital must inform the Environmental Health Department if certain bacteria are found, like Salmonella and E-coli. You may be contacted by an environmental health officer if your child’s sample contains certain viruses or bacteria. This is to help them find out how the infection started and if there was any food, shop or restaurant involved.
If you have any questions you can contact NHS111