The stomach flu, technically known as gastroenteritis, is an inflammation of the bowel and stomach. It is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. A truly miserable condition, it leads to vomiting and diarrhea for three to five days.
Many of us deal with this problem – in fact, it is the second most common illness in the United States (the most common of all is the common cold). Most parents can expect their child to get stomach flu a few times a year before the age of three, especially if the child is in daycare. Learn about the signs which show stomach flu in your toddler and how you prevent it from happening.
Causes and Symptoms of Stomach Flu in Toddlers
Stomach flu in toddlers can be caused by many different things, but the most common is an infection of the stomach called rotavirus. This is often spread when a child uses the toilet but then neglects to wash his hands when he’s done. The tiny bits of feces that a child might come into contact with can then be left on utensils, surfaces such as door knobs or tables, and can then be picked up by another child – thus the infection spreads.
But it can be even more insidious than that – sometimes miniscule participles of feces can actually be carried on the air, and other children can breathe it in. That means that it can be almost impossible to prevent your child from getting the stomach flu in some situations.
You will always be able to tell when your child has contracted this stomach flu. The child will have vomiting, diarrhea, and might also have abdominal pain, chills, general aches and fever. The good news is that sometimes the symptoms are very mild and last for just a few hours. But in most cases, your child can experience three to five days of general yuckiness.
Treatments of Stomach Flu in Toddlers
Fortunately, there are plenty of treatments for stomach flu that can make your toddler feel much better.
1. Give Your Toddler the Right Medications
If your baby is really uncomfortable, try acetaminophen or ibuprofen to bring down their fever and help with those little aches and pains. However, always avoid aspirin or anti-diarrheal medications. Aspirin can lead to serious problems for toddlers, and anti-diarrheal medications can actually make gastroenteritis last even longer.
2. Keep Your Toddler Well Hydrated
You can also give your child plenty of fluids to prevent them from being dehydrated. Stick with clear liquids, especially electrolyte solutions, such as Pedialyte. These solutions can help restore the balance of electrolytes that is lost when a child becomes dehydrated. Avoid anything that has high sugar content, as this can actually make them feel worse.
3. Feed Your Toddler the Right Foods
When it comes to food, your child might not be in the mood to eat, and that’s okay – sometimes eating when they have the stomach flu can make them feel even sicker, and can make the illness last longer. When they do eat, give them things like dry toast, popsicles and the like until they are able to tolerate more typical foods again.
In some cases, the pediatrician might be able to give your child antibiotics – but this is only if the cause of gastroenteritis is a known bacterial infection. Antibiotics won’t work on stomach flu caused by viruses.
How to Prevent Stomach Flu in Toddlers
1. Wash Hands
The best way to prevent stomach flu in toddlers is through proper handwashing. Make sure your child knows to wash their hands before they eat and after they use the bathroom. Encourage friends and family to do the same, and make sure you do as well.
2. Avoid Sharing
You will have to take special precautions when someone in your household has the stomach flu. Wash your hands very often. Disinfect the toilet regularly, including the seat and the handle. Don’t share things like blankets or utensils with someone in the household who has the stomach flu, as this can be an easy way to spread the problem. Make sure that your child has been free of the flu for at least 48 hours before you send them back to school or daycare.
3. Watch Out for Pool Water
Finally, remember that pool water can also spread the most common virus that causes stomach flu in toddlers. Make sure your child avoids the pool for two weeks after an outbreak. If your community is dealing with a severe outbreak of the stomach flu, stay away from the pool altogether until it seems everyone is becoming well again.
When to See a Doctor
Most cases of stomach flu in toddlers will resolve in a few days without a call to the doctor; it just takes some care, plenty of fluids and lots of rest to get them over the worst of it. But sometimes a child will become very ill, and that’s when a call to the doctor is warranted.
How will you be able to tell when this happens? Your child might have some of the most serious signs of dehydration, including sunken eyes, wrinkled skin, very dry lips, and decreased urination. The child might be excessively thirsty, but also lethargic enough to not really care about what you offer them to drink. Very young children might be increasingly fussy. Your child might cry without producing any tears or could even have hands and feet that are cool to the touch and discolored.
If your child has any of these signs, take them to the emergency room immediately. Severe dehydration is a condition that will require immediate medical intervention in order to ensure a smooth recovery. While you are there, your doctor might do tests to figure out what kind of stomach flu your child has.