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Symptoms of Dehydration

Symptoms of Childhood Illnesses


Updated May 16, 2014

Young boy drinking water from tap
Tara Moore/Taxi/Getty Images
Parents often worry about dehydration when their children get sick and have diarrhea and vomiting. Fortunately, it is usually possible to avoid serious complications of dehydration by recognizing the early signs and symptoms of dehydration and getting quick medical attention.

Remember that dehydration is most common when your child is losing more fluids, either by vomiting a lot or having frequent diarrhea, then they are taking in. If you are able to get your child to drink enough fluids, even if it is very small amounts at each time, you can often prevent your child from getting dehydrated. See our guide to treatments for vomiting and diarrhea for more information. Remember that the big mistake many parents make is to give their child too much to drink too quickly, which usually leads to more vomiting.

Among the signs and symptoms that your Pediatrician will look at to determine if your child is dehydrated include:

  • the amount of weight loss, which usually correlates to how dehydrated a child is (so 5 percent weight loss likely means that they are 5 percent dehydrated)
  • how often and how much they are urinating (children with diabetes may continue to urinate frequently, even when they are severely dehydrated, so this isn't always a reliable sign)
  • the presence of tears, a moist mouth and tongue, and whether or not their eyes are sunken
  • their capillary refill (briefly press on your child's nail bed so that it blanches or turns white, and see how long it takes to return to normal)
  • skin fold recall or skin turgor test (gently pinch your child's skin on their abdomen, hold it for a few seconds and then let it go to see how long it takes to return to the normal position)

Symptoms of Minimal Dehydration

Most children who are sick, either with a cold or mild stomach bug, will have minimal or no dehydration. These children are alert and appear well and have:
  • normal thirst or may refuse some liquids
  • a moist mouth and tongue
  • normal to slightly decreased urine output
  • less than 3 percent weight loss
  • normal heart rate, pulses, breathing, and warm extremities
  • capillary refill less than 2 seconds
  • instant recoil on skin turgor test
  • eyes not sunken (and/or fontanel in a baby)

Symptoms of Mild to Moderate Dehydration

Once their dehydration worsens, children may begin to feel tired, restless, and irritable, which makes it difficult to get them to drink more fluids. Other signs and symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration, for which you should usually call your Pediatrician, include:
  • increased thirst
  • a dry mouth and tongue
  • decreased urine output
  • 3 to 9 percent weight loss
  • normal to increased heart rate and pulses, normal to fast breathing, and cool extremities
  • capillary refill greater than 2 seconds
  • recoil on skin turgor test in less than 2 seconds
  • slightly sunken eyes (and/or fontanel in a baby)

Symptoms of Severe Dehydration

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and you should seek immediate medical attention. These children appear lethargic (meaning they are difficult to keep awake) or may be unconscious. They also may have:
  • poor drinking or may be unable to drink
  • a parched mouth and tongue
  • minimal or no urine output
  • greater than 9 percent weight loss
  • increased heart rate, weak pulses, deep breathing, and cool, mottled extremities
  • capillary refill that is very prolonged or minimal
  • recoil on skin turgor test in more than 2 seconds
  • deeply sunken eyes (and/or fontanel in a baby)

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