Diarrhoea and vomiting

Diarrhoea and vomiting

Diarrhoea in young children is usually caused by an infection in the gut, known as gastroenteritis. Children with gastroenteritis usually have loose or watery stools and may also vomit. The infection can be caught from other people, and can affect children who have recently been abroad. During gastroenteritis, good hygiene is important to help stop the spread of infection (see Preventing the spread of gastroenteritis).

Most children with gastroenteritis get better quickly without treatment and can be looked after at home safely. However, severe diarrhoea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, which is when the body doesn't have enough water or the right balance of salts to carry out its normal functions. Children with dehydration often feel and look unwell, and if the dehydration becomes severe it can be dangerous. Dehydration is more likely to occur in young babies, and in children who haven't been able to drink enough during their illness or whose diarrhoea and vomiting has been severe.

Some of the symptoms of dehydration are:

  • seeming unwell

  • being unusually irritable or lethargic

  • passing less urine than normal.

Diarrhoea usually lasts for 5–7 days and in most children it will stop within 2 weeks. Vomiting often lasts for 1–2 days and in most children it will stop within 3 days. You should seek advice from a healthcare professional if your child's symptoms are taking longer to improve, or if they develop any of the symptoms of dehydration listed above.