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Vomiting (throwing up) and diarrhea (watery stool) are common symptoms in children that can happen at any time of year. They often happen together, but some children just have vomiting or diarrhea.
The most common causes of vomiting and diarrhea are viruses that easily spread from person to person. These viruses cause an infection called gastroenteritis.
The best way to prevent spreading the infection is to:
Diarrhea and vomiting are managed by preventing dehydration (loss of too much fluid).
Drinking To prevent dehydration, make sure your child drinks lots of fluids. They need to drink enough fluids to meet what they need each day and replace the ones they lose with vomiting or diarrhea.
If your child has diarrhea without vomiting, they can drink as much as they want.
If your child is throwing up, they should drink small amounts of fluids often. Offer your child 5 mL of fluids every few minutes. If they can keep that down, give them up to 30 mL of fluids every 5 minutes.
If your child does not appear to be dehydrated, give them clear fluids, such as apple juice mixed with water, or sport electrolyte drinks. If your child has signs of dehydration, give them an electrolyte maintenance solution such as Pedialyte.
Eating If your child has diarrhea but isn’t throwing up or is no longer throwing up, let them eat healthy foods that aren’t too high in fat or sugar. Eating will help them get better faster.
Once they haven’t thrown up for a few hours, slowly give them small amounts of foods to eat. It’s best not to give your child fatty or greasy foods if they have diarrhea or have been throwing up.
Don’t give your child over-the-counter medicines that claim to prevent vomiting, such as dimenhydrinate (Gravol), or drugs that try to stop diarrhea, such as loperamide (Imodium). These drugs don’t work well in children and may have serious side effects.
If your child isn’t dehydrated, they have a low risk of developing other health problems. The most important thing to do is make sure they get enough fluids. When your child is getting enough fluids (is well hydrated), they:
You’ll know that your child is getting enough fluids to drink (that they’re hydrated) if they:
What you can do Wash your hands often, especially after you use the bathroom, change diapers, and before you handle food.
As long as your child is well hydrated, you can let them drink and eat when they want.
If your child throws up, wait 15 minutes before you offer them fluids again. If your child keeps throwing up, offer them small amounts of fluid (5 mL or 1 tsp.) every few minutes.
Watch your child for signs of dehydration.
When to get help Call your child’s family doctor, pediatrician, or Health Link at 811 if your child has:
Go to the emergency department if your child has:
If your child has some dehydration, they have a risk of developing other health problems. It’s important to watch your child closely. Make sure they get enough fluids and call your child’s healthcare provider or Health Link at 811 to find out if they should see a doctor.
When your child has some dehydration, they:
Checking how often your child passes urine (pee) will help you know if they’re dehydrated. Signs that your child may be dehydrated are:
What you can do
When to get help Call your family doctor, pediatrician, or Health Link at 811 if your child:
If your child is very dehydrated (has severe dehydration), they have lost a lot of fluids and have a high risk of developing other health problems.
When your child has severe dehydration, they:
Checking how often your child passes urine (pee) will also help you know if they’re dehydrated. Signs that your child may be dehydrated are:
If your child has severe dehydration, go to an emergency department or call 911 right away.
To see this information online and learn more, visit MyHealth.Alberta.ca/health/pages/conditions.aspx?Hwid=custom.ab_vomitdiarrhea_ac_child.
For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.
Current as of: January 30, 2023
Author: Maternal, Newborn, Child and Youth Strategic Clinical Network, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.