Gastroenteritis, more commonly known as “stomach flu” is an intestinal inflammation caused by viral, bacterial or parasitic infection resulting in diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Usually the illness clears up in a few days but sometimes it may take longer.
The main health risk of gastroenteritis is lack of fluid in the body resulting in dehydration depending on the frequency and duration of vomiting and diarrhea.
To avoid this potentially life-threatening situation, the infected person requires frequent fluid hydration. When it involves a child with gastroenteritis, getting them to consume sufficient fluid is often not easy. In addition many parents question what fluid is best for children and anyone else to prevent dehydration?
A June 2016 study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested a hypothesis to determine if oral hydration with diluted apple juice was superior to using an electrolyte maintenance solution.
Researchers studied around 600 children admitted to the emergency room with stomach flu and minimal dehydration. Half of the children were given dilute apple juice and the other half were given an oral rehydration electrolyte solution like Pedialyte.
Parents of the children given dilute apple juice were given instructions to offer their child whatever fluids they would take once they got home. The parents of children given the oral rehydration electrolyte solution were instructed to continue giving the solution at home.
What was found was that the children given dilute apple juice were less likely to need intravenous fluids or end up back in the emergency room.
Typically solutions like Pedialyte are recommended by doctors to rehydrate children when sick with the stomach flu. The reason for this is other fluids may have a lot of sugar in them such as juice that could worsen diarrhea. Also vomiting and diarrhea can cause a loss of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium necessary for body functions. Pedialyte contains those electrolytes to help replace what is lost.
If the symptoms of gastroenteritis are mild however, any fluid will suffice such as apple juice. When a child is able to drink a fluid they are familiar with and that tastes good to them, they will more likely drink enough to prevent dehydration. If they have to consume an unfamiliar drink, they may end up not consuming enough and run the risk of dehydration and possible hospitalization.
During gastroenteritis, offer children small amounts of fluid (an ounce or two at a time) to be sure it stays down. Continue with small amounts until they are keeping fluids down and the diarrhea and vomiting have stopped.
Diluting a beverage such as apple juice can be an important way to prevent dehydration in children but adults with gastroenteritis can benefit from this also. The extra water and less sugar is easier on the stomach and they will be more likely to want to drink it. Once they are able to hold down diluted apple juice, other beverages such as milk or another juice can be tried in small amounts to see if they tolerate it.
Any child or infant who is unable to keep anything down, is extremely tired, is running a high fever (102 degrees F or higher), is having repeated diarrhea or vomiting or has not urinated in 6 hours, needs to be seen by a doctor or taken to an emergency room right away.