A Parents Guide to the Stomach Flu

June 16, 2023

It’s tough to see our little ones (or our tweens and teens) feeling under the weather. One common ailment that many experience is gastroenteritis, or, stomach flu. Our Health Navigator, a registered nurse and your trusted guide at Sprout, offers tips to ease discomfort and know when to seek help.

Gastroenteritis is caused by an infection in the stomach and small intestines, leading to an unpleasant symphony of symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. In most cases, viral gastroenteritis is the culprit, and the good news is that it typically clears up within 1-3 days with proper care and rest.

Managing Symptoms and Providing Relief

When it comes to managing the symptoms of gastroenteritis, fluids are essential. Opt for gentle options like broth, flat soda, popsicles, apple juice, and sports drinks, as they are easier to tolerate when feeling nauseated. Ice chips can also help alleviate nausea. Listen to your child's appetite, and don’t try to make them eat if they are not hungry.

Once your child starts feeling better and can tolerate fluids without any stomach upset, you can gradually reintroduce bland foods into their diet. Think foods like crackers, plain noodles, eggs, applesauce, and bananas. If your child only has diarrhea, they can eat as tolerated, and you don’t need to avoid dairy products, but steer clear of raw vegetables, meat, and drinks with excessive sugar as they may worsen symptoms.

Fluid Intake and Dehydration

One of the most important things to monitor when managing gastroenteritis is your child's fluid intake. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to fluid loss, which may cause dehydration. Infants, small children, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to dehydration, especially if they have a fever. Keep a close eye on your child's fluid levels, and seek medical help if you notice signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth, decreased urine output, or increasing weakness.

Antibiotics Are No Help

Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections, including gastroenteritis. In fact, some antibiotics might worsen the symptoms or cause unnecessary side effects. So, when it comes to treating gastroenteritis, focus on other approaches to ease discomfort and support your child's recovery.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While most cases of gastroenteritis can be managed at home, there are situations where medical attention may be necessary. Contact your doctor, medical professional, or go to the ER if your child experiences the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting blood or brown coffee ground-type material. 
  • Bowel movements appear tarry black. Monitor babies diapers to see if there has been any change. If there are less or more bowel movements than usual and it’s lasting over 24 hours, make sure you contact your healthcare provider or go to the ER.
  • Develops a severe, constant stomach ache.
  • Experiences blurred vision, trouble swallowing, or muscle weakness.
  • If babies or kids have decreased urine (haven’t urinated in over 20 hours).
  • Continues to vomit all fluids or is unable to drink for 24 hours or more.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea persist for more than 2 days.

Prevention is Key

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While it's difficult to completely shield your child from gastroenteritis, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk. Frequent handwashing, especially in public places. Avoid sharing food or drinks. And where possible, avoid contact with folks who are sick.

Our Health Navigator, or nurse on-call, is a great resource for Sprout members who may have questions about the stomach flu or other bugs.

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