Diarrhea

Diarrhoea in Infants and Young Children

Diarrhea is passage of loose stools. World Health Organization defines diarrhea as passage of 3 or more loose or liquid stools per day. It occurs at some point in the life of nearly every child.

Most episodes of diarrhoea last a few days to a week or sometimes even more, depending on the cause. The following causes could be responsible for diarrhea in infants and young children.

Infection: Many viruses, bacteria or even parasites can cause diarrhea. They enter the body through food or water and cause infection in the digestive tract, resulting in symptoms of diarrhea. Infectious diarrhea often occurs with fever, nausea, vomiting, cramps, and dehydration. Infections are spread through contaminated food or drinking-water, or from person to person as a result of poor hygiene. Hence, personal hygiene is of utmost importance.

Food intolerance and allergy: Some children are unable to digest some component of food, such as lactose, the sugar found in milk. Intake of milk or milk formula in these children can cause diarrhea. Eliminating lactose (cow’s milk/formula) or reducing its quantity or mixing it with cereals would help relieve the symptoms. Babies having lactose intolerance may need special milk. Food allergies such as cow’s milk protein allergy can also cause diarrhea.

Reaction to medicines: Certain antibiotics and medications may cause diarrheoa in children. The symptoms get resolved after stopping the medications. The diarrhea is usually mild and does not lead to dehydration and weight loss.

Intestinal diseases and disorders: Certain diseases like celiac disease, inflammation of colon, irritable bowel syndrome can cause diarrhea.

The line of treatment would vary based on cause of diarrhea. Infants and young children under age 3 years can become dehydrated quickly due to watery stools, vomiting and get really sick. It is very crucial to replenish the lost water and fluid to prevent dehydration. Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) which contains glucose (a sugar) and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride) and water could be started with doctor’s advice. ORS does not cure diarrhea, but it does help to overcome dehydration.

Diarrhea in infants can cause irritability, abdominal pain and cramping, which may result in disrupted sleep, loss of appetite, sluggishness and less activity than usual. Diarrhoea can also result in weight loss. Severe diarrhoea leads to fluid loss, and may be life-threatening, particularly in young children who are malnourished or have impaired immunity. Please consult your doctor when a child has diarrhea.