What is it?
Most people are familiar with diarrhoea, which generally begins with abdominal cramps or pains and results in the passing of watery faeces. While a bout of diarrhoea is uncomfortable but not dangerous for most adults, it can be life-threatening for babies and small children due to their vulnerability to dehydration. A 2009 joint report by Unicef and the World Health Organisation estimated that around 1.5 million child deaths around the world each year can be attributed to diarrhoea.
If your child develops diarrhoea you should seek medical attention quickly. Most children will have acute diarrhoea at least once during their childhood.
What are the causes?
There are two types of diarrhoea:
Acute diarrhoea – which may last for two or three days, and;
Chronic diarrhoea – which may last for several weeks or continue on and off consistently.
This is the most common type of diarrhoea and is usually caused by a viral infection, such as gastroenteritis. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection such as salmonella, or even be a side effect of taking a course of antibiotics! If your child’s diarrhoea persists for more than two or three days, you may want to request your doctor to take some faeces samples for testing.
There are a number of potential causes of chronic diarrhea, including a parasitic infection such as Giardiasis, a food intolerance, coeliac disease or other rarer conditions. Chronic diarrhea should always be referred to your doctor for further testing.
Irrespective of the type of diarrhoea your child has, there is also the risk that the initial bout will temporarily damage the lining of their intestine, which in turn can cause lactose intolerance. This intolerance will usually disappear once the intestinal lining has healed.
What are the treatments?
The most important thing in terms of managing diarrhea is to prevent or quickly treat dehydration. You can buy oral rehydration solutions (such as Gastrolite) from the chemist; the Queensland Department of Health offers the following guidelines if your child refuses to drink these solutions:
Children who refuse oral rehydration solution should be encouraged to drink water. They may also be given diluted drinks such as:
1. diluted cordial 10ml + 150ml water
2. diluted soft drink 50ml + 150ml water
3. diluted fruit juices 50ml + 150ml water
The aim is to give as much fluid as normal as well as replacing the fluid that is being lost. As a guideline:
* children aged less than two years should be given 50ml every 30 minutes while awake
* older children can be given 50-100ml every 30 minutes
Breastfeeding should be continued whenever possible. Offer the breast more often and give babies boiled water between feeds.
If your child appears to have chronic diarrhea then it is important to seek medical advice to diagnose the underlying issue.
Of course, normal hygiene such as thoroughly washing your hands with soap after any toileting procedures and before preparing food minimises the risk of spread to other members of the family.