Gastroenteritis is the illness that gives you diarrhoea and often makes you vomit.
Symptoms of gastro
Gastro symptoms might include:
Your child might not feel like eating or drinking or might have trouble keeping down food or drink because of vomiting. If your child doesn’t get enough fluid, there’s a risk they’ll get dehydrated.
Does your child need to see a doctor about gastro?
Take your child to the GP if your child:
- has a lot of diarrhoea
- is vomiting often and can’t seem to keep any fluids down
- has blood in their poo
- is under 6 months and has gastro symptoms.
Take your child to a hospital emergency department straight away if your child:
- seems to be dehydrated – for example, they aren’t passing urine, look pale and thin, have sunken eyes, cold hands and cold feet, are drowsy or are very cranky
- has severe stomach pain
- has blood in their vomit or green vomit
- is showing signs of being very unwell.
You know your child best, so trust your instincts if your child doesn’t seem well. Signs that your child has a serious illness that requires urgent medical attention include severe pain, drowsiness, pale or blue skin, dehydration, troubled breathing, seizures and reduced responsiveness.
Treatment for gastro
Most cases of gastroenteritis in children aren’t serious. But children with gastro need plenty of comfort and reassurance that they’ll be OK.
It’s important to make sure that your child gets enough fluid. Give your child small amounts to drink often – for example, a few mouthfuls every 15 minutes. This will help to prevent dehydration.
It’s best to use an oral rehydration fluid like Gastrolyte, Hydralyte, Pedialyte or Repalyte. You can buy these fluids over the counter from a pharmacy. These products might come as premade liquid, powder or icy poles for freezing. Make sure that you make up the liquid carefully according to the instructions on the packet.
If you can’t get oral rehydration fluid, you can use diluted lemonade, cordial or fruit juice. Use 1 part lemonade or juice to 4 parts water. Full-strength lemonade, cordial or fruit juice might make any diarrhoea worse, so don’t give these to your child.
If you have a young breastfed baby, keep breastfeeding but feed more often. You can give your child extra oral rehydration fluid between feeds.
If your baby is bottle fed, give them oral rehydration fluid for the first 24 hours only and then reintroduce full-strength formula in smaller, more frequent feeds. You can still offer extra oral rehydration fluids between feeds.
Getting your child to drink
Your child might not be keen to drink. You can try to get your child drinking more by giving them drinks via a syringe or spoon, and letting them suck icy poles.
Your child might refuse food to start with. But don’t stop food for more than 24 hours.
If your child is hungry, you can give them food at the same time as fluid. It’s generally best to start with bland foods like plain biscuits, bread, rice, potato or jelly. They can start eating other foods gradually.
Avoid giving your child dairy products for 7-10 days after an episode of gastro, because this might make the diarrhoea go on longer.
Additional treatment and complications
If your child is very dehydrated or can’t keep any oral fluids down, they might need fluids to be given through a tube that goes up their nose and into the stomach or directly into a vein through a drip. In this case, your child will have to go into hospital.
Don’t treat your child with antidiarrhoea medicines. There’s no evidence to show that these medicines work. Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you about the best treatment options for your child.
Gastro spreads easily.
You can help prevent the spread of gastro by making sure everyone in the family washes their hands regularly and doesn’t share drink bottles, cups or food utensils.
If your child has gastro, keep them away from other children and school or child care until they’ve had no vomiting or diarrhoea for at least 48 hours.
Causes of gastro
Gastro is usually caused by a virus and sometimes by a bacterial or parasite infection. These germs cause inflammation of the stomach and intestine walls, which in turn causes the diarrhoea and vomiting.
Rotavirus is a common cause of viral gastroenteritis in children. It’s becoming less common, because rotavirus immunisation is part of Australia’s National Immunisation Program. Your baby gets this immunisation at 2 and 4 months.