Chronic loose stools in children can be caused by intestinal infections and food sensitivities, intolerances or allergies. Intestinal infections that can cause chronic loose stools in children can be a result of bacteria such as Salmonella or E.Coli. Rotavirus, one of the most common causes of chronic loose stools in children, is highly contagious and according to Dr. Jim Sears M.D., can cause water, foul-smelling, brown or green diarrhoea that can last from three to four weeks as the intestines heal from the infection. Rotavirus may also cause vomiting and fever. Food intolerances can cause chronic loose stools that will persist until the culprit foods are removed from the diet. The most common food intolerance in children is lactose intolerance which occurs after a child eats dairy products that contain lactose. Products that contain colouring, chemical additives and sugar can also irritate children's intestines. Food allergies can also chronic cause loose stools in children that may also contain blood and mucus. Chronic loose stools caused by food allergies are usually accompanied by rashes, a runny nose, coughing and/or wheezing.
Chronic loose stools caused by viral infections are not usually treatable by medication and must run their course. Severe chronic loose stools may need further testing to rule-out serious conditions. Your paediatrician may perform a routine stool culture to test for salmonella or E.Coli bacterial infections. According to Dr. Sears, your child's stool may also be tested for ova and parasites as well as rotavirus and giardia antigens that can also cause chronic loose stools in children. Your paediatrician may also perform a hemocult test to test for the presence of blood in your child's stool which can signify food allergies or other intestinal issues.
Chronic loose stools can cause dehydration in children. Look for signs of dehydration such as a decrease in urination, sunken eyes, dry mouth, inability to produce tears when crying, increased irritability and a decrease in activity. Oral rehydration fluids will help your child stay hydrated while suffering from chronic loose stools. If your child will not drink oral rehydration fluids, try offering white grape juice to drink or ice chips to suck on. Avoid juices with high sorbitol content such as pear or apple juice which can cause increased loose stool or diarrhoea symptoms.
Dr. Sears states that adding new foods to your child's diet or increasing their daily intake of high-fibre fruits and vegetables can also cause chronic loose stools. Children who drink excessive apple and pear juice may also suffer from chronic loose stools.
If your child experiences prolonged chronic loose stools, they can develop a temporary lactase deficiency which causes an intolerance of dairy products. Try replacing dairy products with soy products such as soy milk if your child develops severe loose stools after eating dairy products.
Electrolytes are dissolved salts in bodily fluids that are necessary at normal concentrations or balance for normal bodily functions. Electrolytes can become imbalanced by abnormal fluid loss, as occurs in diarrhoea. Diarrhoea can be caused by any number of factors. These include food intolerances and food allergies, bacterial, viral or parasitic infections, reactions to medicines and intestinal diseases such as colitis, coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease. People who are lactose-intolerant can get diarrhoea from drinking milk.
In the U.S., adults experience diarrhoea about four times a year on average. Children will typically have seven to 15 episodes of diarrhoea by the age of five. Call your doctor if diarrhoea lasts for more than three days, is accompanied with several rectal or abdominal pain, blood or black stools, a fever of more than 38 degrees C in children, or signs of dehydration. Medicines designed to stop diarrhoea in adults should not be given to children unless specified by a doctor.
Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance
The fluid lost in diarrhoea takes electrolytes and water out of the body; these have to be replaced. Major electrolytes lost in diarrhoea include sodium and potassium. These are both necessary for proper function of muscle and nerve cells. Blood can also become acidic (acidosis) or, in rare instances, alkaline (alkalosis). These conditions are monitored by blood tests that check for sodium, potassium and bicarbonate concentrations.
Signs of Dehydration
Your child may be dehydrated if he has a dry mouth and tongue and produces no tears when crying. Skin will not flatten quickly when gently pinched. If your baby has not wet his diaper for more than three hours or has a high fever, he may be dehydrated. Sunken cheeks, eyes or abdomen are also signs of dehydration. Dehydration in infants and children must be treated immediately to avoid a life-threatening situation. General signs are listlessness, thirst, less-frequent urination or dark-coloured urine and fatigue.
Treating Electrolyte Imbalance
Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance often go undetected in infants and children. The presence of diarrhoea indicates that the child should be offered anything you can get her to drink, with preference given to balanced electrolyte solutions, soups and broths. Sports drinks generally have more sugar than is recommended for children, but if there is nothing else available, they can be diluted with water and given to children. Electrolyte balance can be restored by the kidneys when ample water and electrolytes are given.
Seek the cause of the diarrhoea. Has the child had a change in diet or been exposed to others who may have a virus? Remove all bedding and toys from the child's room and clean them with thoroughly to help stop recontamination if diarrhoea is thought to be due to a virus or bacteria. Also clean bottles and pacifiers. Even if a change of diet is the culprit, it is a good idea to clean items the child has been in contact with.
Keep the child hydrated. According to Dr. Alan Greene, breast milk is beneficial in preventing diarrhoea, so continue nursing if at all possible. Otherwise, provide babies bottles of formula. Dr. Greene suggests using a soy-based formula, as it contains fibre, which helps slow diarrhoea. Hydrating with an oral rehydration solution will also replenish fluids.
Provide small amounts of solid foods such as carrots, rice cereal, bananas, applesauce and potatoes to aid in slowing stools. Feed after 7 to 12 hours of oral rehydration. Fruit juices are not recommended.
Introduce foods containing fibre, such as whole-wheat cereals, when the child's bowels begin to return to normal. This will help continue healthy bowel movements. The additional fibre will absorb extra fluid in the bowels.
Avoid giving medications when dealing with diarrhoea. According to familydoctor.org, medications may interfere with the body's abilities to heal itself.
Another soothing food option for children with diarrhoea is yoghurt containing live and active cultures. The yoghurt will provide the stomach and intestines with healthy bacteria, which aid in restoring a healthy balance to the child's stomach and bowels.
Give your baby nothing to eat or drink for 30 minutes to one hour following an episode of vomiting in order to rest the stomach and prevent further irritation.
Monitor your baby for signs of dehydration, such as less frequent urination, a strong odor or darker color to your baby’s urine, increased fussiness, lethargy, sunken fontanels, reduced tears when crying and a dry or sticky mouth. If your infant shows any signs of dehydration, he needs to be taken to the emergency room immediately.
Continue breast-feeding your baby, and offer each breast to your infant every 10 minutes. Formula fed babies should be given 0.5 ounces of room temperature oral rehydration solution every 10 minutes after the vomiting has subsided. Gradually increase the amount of the rehydration solution over the next several hours, and continue to check your baby for signs of dehydration. When six hours have passed without vomiting, formula feeding may be resumed.
For older babies who are accustomed to solid foods, introduce clear liquids once your child is feeling better and has not vomited in at least eight hours. Chicken broth, gelatin and popsicles are typically well tolerated.
Resume a normal diet when 12 hours have passed since the last vomiting episode. Begin with foods such as bread, cereal, pasta, bananas and applesauce. If new symptoms develop, or if the vomiting returns, contact your baby’s pediatrician as soon as possible.
Things You Will Need
- Oral rehydration solution appropriate for your baby’s age
- Infant acetaminophen suppositories for fever, if needed
If you are concerned about your baby's health, contact his physician. Most doctor's offices have nurses available to answer questions over the phone.
Avoid giving any unnecessary oral medications, as they may further irritate the stomach and make vomiting worse. Use acetaminophen suppositories for fever, if needed. Projectile vomiting and vomiting that is more than the amount usually present with spit-up should be reported to your child's health care provider.