Diarrhoea and vomiting in children 

Although unpleasant, diarrhoea and vomiting in children is rarely serious. The most common reason for a child suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting is something called rotavirus gastroenteritis. This is very contagious so make sure your child washes their hands after going to the toilet. Diarrhoea and vomiting can also often occur as part of your child having a cold or flu.

How common is it?
Diarrhoea and vomiting is extremely common in children. In fact, a baby or toddler would probably have diarrhoea and vomiting two or three times a year.

How long does it last?
In children under three months, a bout of diarrhoea and vomiting that lasts for less than 12 hours is no cause for concern. If it lasts for longer, contact your GP. If your child is between three months and one year old, diarrhoea and vomiting should last no longer than 48 hours. If it's any longer, contact your GP.

How is it treated?
Children with diarrhoea and vomiting can be treated at home and should get better without any specific treatment. The most important thing is to make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids. Give them a salt and sugar solution, which will help to replace what your child is losing. A ready-made solution such as Dioralyte is recommended, which comes in a variety of flavours. 

In an emergency, you can make a solution at home using two flat teaspoons of sugar and half a flat teaspoon of salt per half litre (or pint) of water. If you are breastfeeding your child you should carry on doing so, and you can use water or Dioralyte in between feeds.

When is it serious?
If your child is showing signs of dehydration, seek the advice of your GP. Signs of dehydration include: 

  • No wet nappies or trips to the toilet for 10 hours.
  • Weak/no energy.
  • Dry mouth, tongue and lips.
  • Faster or slower breathing.
  • Cold to the touch.
  • Irritable.

If your child becomes seriously dehydrated, they may be admitted to hospital and given fluid through a tube up their nose or a drip in a vein.

What should you avoid?
You should avoid:

  • Giving your child dairy products. This can make the problem worse because children’s intestines do not handle the sugars in dairy products very well.
  • Sugary drinks.
  • Forcing food on your child. As long as they're drinking plenty, this won’t be a problem in the short term.

How can it be prevented?
Make sure your child gets into the routine of washing their hands after going to the toilet. You should also keep your child off school to stop the virus spreading to other children.

Last reviewed: 31/03/2009

Next review due: 31/03/2011