Q. How should I manage a stomach virus? Whenever one of my children vomits, I never know whether to go to the pediatrician or to simply “weather the storm” at home?
A stomach virus ,or gastroenteritis, is a common childhood ailment that can normally be treated at home. During a typical course, a child will have vomiting for the first 12 to 24 hours followed by diarrhea that may last for several days.
In most cases, the key is offering small amounts of fluids frequently during the early stages of the illness. When a child vomits, parents should wait about 45 minutes before offering any fluids. After this, start with small amounts of liquids (1-2 teaspoons) every 5-10 minutes. The best liquids to use are electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte. In children who are over age 1, popsicles are a good alternative.
Gradually increase the volume of liquid over the next several hours. Once a child has gone 8 hours without vomiting, then solids can be introduced. If vomiting recurs, the process would start over. Breastfed infants should continue breastfeeding but for shorter periods of time more frequently.
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The most common complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration. Be sure to watch for these signs and symptoms: sunken eyes, dry mouth or cracked lips, crying without tears, excessive irritability and decreased energy or lethargy.
Although usually a sign of a simple viral infection, vomiting can sometimes signal a more serious problem. Special caution should be taken for infants less than six months of age -- particularly if the vomiting is accompanied by fever.
Parents should also contact their child’s healthcare provider if their child has had a recent head injury, is refusing to take liquids, is experiencing severe stomach pains, has fever, has bloody diarrhea, if the vomit is black, dark green or bloody, or if the vomiting persist for over 24 hours.