Category: Symptoms

What is Causing your Child’s Diarrhea?

Often described as the "cruise ship virus," you can get norovirus infections in daycare centers, schools, or after eating at a restaurant.
Often described as the “cruise ship virus,” you can get norovirus infections in daycare centers, schools, or after eating at a restaurant. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why does your child have diarrhea?

Could it be the “stomach flu,” food poisoning, or just an intolerance to something your child eat?

Common Causes of Diarrhea

While parents often quickly jump to the idea of “food poisoning,”  infections are typically the most common cause of diarrhea in kids.

These include:

  • viruses – rotavirus (a vaccine preventable disease), adenovirus, and norovirus
  • bacteria – C. diff, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Bacillus cereus, Listeria, Cholera
  • parasites – Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Cyclospora

Not all diarrhea is caused by infections though. If the diarrhea lingers for more than a few weeks or keeps coming and going, then you might consider that your child might have a lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, Celiac disease,  or other non-infectious cause.

Hints of Diarrhea Causes and Risk Factors

To help figure out what might be causing your child’s diarrhea, consider these questions and share the answers with your pediatrician:

  • Does your child have bloody diarrhea (sometimes a sign of a bacterial infection)?
  • Is your child getting dehydrated? While that doesn’t tell you want is causing the diarrhea, it is a good sign that you need to seek medical attention.
  • Does your younger child (under age 2 to 4 years) have bloody diarrhea that is becoming jelly-like and episodes of severe, colicky abdominal pain (sign of intussusception)?
  • Is your child in daycare? Has anyone else recently been sick with diarrhea or vomiting?
  • Has your child recently been on antibiotics (a risk for C. diff)?
  • Does your toddler with diarrhea drink a lot of juice (Toddler’s diarrhea)?
  • Have you recently traveled out of the country (Traveler’s diarrhea)? Did your child get sick a few days later (could be a bacterial or viral cause) or a few weeks later (parasites have longer incubation periods)?
  • Has your child recently spent time on a lake or river and possibly drank untreated water (risk for Giardia infection)?
  • Do you have any high risk pets, including turtles, snakes, lizards (or other reptiles); frogs, salamanders, newts (or other amphibians); chicks, chickens, ducklings, ducks, geese, and turkeys (or other poultry); mice, rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs (or other rodents); or farm animals (all can be a risk for Salmonella)?
  • Have you recently visited a farm or petting zoo (risk for Salmonella and E. coli)?
  • Has your child recently visited a water park or public swimming pool (risk for Cryptosporidium)?
  • Does your child drink raw milk, unpasteurized juice, raw or undercooked eggs, or undercooked beef, pork, and poultry (risk for food poisoning)?
  • Has your child recently eaten leftover food that had been unrefrigerated for more than two hours (risk for food poisoning)?
  • Is the diarrhea worse after your child drinks a lot of milk or eats a lot of dairy (a sign of lactose intolerance)?
  • Does your child have alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea (irritable bowel syndrome)?
  • In addition to chronic diarrhea, is your child irritable, with poor weight gain and other symptoms (a sign of Celiac disease)?
  • Does your child also have abdominal pain or just diarrhea?
  • Is your child taking any medications that might cause diarrhea as a side effect?

Once you have narrowed down the possibilities, blood and stool tests, including stool culture tests for bacteria, parasites, and viruses can sometimes help to figure out what is causing your child’s diarrhea. Keep in mind that these are usually reserved for diarrhea symptoms that are severe (bloody diarrhea, fever, weight loss, etc.)  or lingering for more than a few weeks.

And remember that the most common causes of diarrhea, including food poisoning and viral infections, typically go away on their own without treatment. In fact, you can make things worse if you treat some causes of diarrhea with antibiotics, including some Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli infections.

Still don’t know what is causing your child’s diarrhea? In addition to your pediatrician, a pediatric gastroenterologist can be helpful when your child has diarrhea.

What To Know About Diarrhea

While diarrhea is common in kids and we often don’t figure out the specific cause before it goes away on its own, there are clues that can help you figure out if your child’s diarrhea is caused by a virus, bacteria, parasite, or other condition.

For More Information on Diarrhea

Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms

There are many viruses that can cause a cold, which means that your kids can get a cold every few weeks or months, and year after year.

And unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccine to prevent your kids from getting these colds. That often leads parents to try and look for ways to help their kids feel better when they have a cold.

Cold Symptoms

Before trying to treat your child’s cold, you have to figure out when they have a cold.

Colds are often misdiagnosed as allergies, sinus infections, and even the flu.

That shouldn’t be too surprising when you look at the classic cold symptoms, which can include:

  • a runny nose – with clear, yellow, or green drainage (green doesn’t mean that it is a sinus infection!)
  • coughing – often from post-nasal drip
  • sore throat – often from post-nasal drip
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • a low grade fever (usually under 102.2F or 39C) for the first few days
  • mild headaches
  • mild body aches

That’s right, you can have a fever with a cold!

Most importantly, understand that cold symptoms typically worsen over the first three to five days and then gradually get better over the next seven to ten days. So they can easily last for a good two weeks, although you can expect improvement in that second week.

Treating Cold Symptoms

Most cough and cold medicines should not be used in kids under age four to six years.
Most cough and cold medicines should not be used in kids under age four to six years.

So how should you treat your child’s cold?

A pediatrician I once worked with when I was a student used to recommend “soup, suckers, and showers.”

However, since treating the symptoms won’t help the cold go away, you could do nothing at all. While that might seem harsh, keep in mind that colds go away on their own and most of the things that we do to treat cold symptoms don’t actually work all that well.

Still, if your child has a cold and doesn’t feel good, some soup and popsicles (suckers) couldn’t hurt. Nor could some time in the bathroom with the door closed and a hot shower going, so your child can breath in the steam (while being supervised).

What about cough and cold medicines?

Because of the risk of serious, sometimes life-threatening side effects, since 2007, cough and cold medicines have carried the warning “do not use in children under 4 years of age.” So anything you find over-the-counter for younger kids now is either homeopathic (diluted to nothing) or just has honey as its main ingredient.

Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms

What else can you do to help control your child’s cold symptoms?

You could try:

  • Letting him continue with his usual activities, including going to daycare or school, if he doesn’t have a fever and isn’t overly bothered by his cold symptoms.
  • Encouraging your child to drink extra fluids.
  • Using a cool mist humidifier.
  • Spraying a saline spray or nose drops into your child’s nose.
  • Suctioning your younger child’s nose with a bulb syringe after using saline nose drops. Keep in mind that even with specialty gadgets, like the NoseFrida, you can’t do deep suctioning like they do in the hospital, so any benefits will be very temporary. And this type of suctioning is for symptomatic relief, it won’t help your child get better any faster.
  • Suctioning your younger child’s nose with a bulb syringe without saline nose drops.
  • Encouraging your older child to blow his nose, although since this is mainly to help him feel better and won’t help him actually get better any faster, don’t nag him too much or cause a meltdown if he doesn’t want to do it.
  • Giving your child an age appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever and/or any aches and pains.

While there are cold and cough medicines for older kids, over age four to six years, and nasal decongestant sprays (like Afrin and Neo-Synephrine) for kids over age six years, there isn’t a lot of evidence that they work. They definitely won’t help your child with a cold get better any faster, so make sure they are at least helping him feel better if you are using one of them.

Even the popular cold and cough medicines with guaifenesin to thin mucus or long-acting cough suppressants probably don’t do much or anything to help your kids feel better and certainly won’t help them get better faster.

What about prescription cough and cold medicines? Most were forced out of pharmacies by the FDA several years ago because they were never actually approved or evaluated to treat cough and cold symptoms. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has long been against the use of cough suppressants with narcotics, such as codeine.

Most importantly, do see your pediatrician if your infant under age three months has a fever (temp at or above 100.4F or 38C), if your older child continues to get worse after three to five days, or isn’t at least starting to get better after 10 days of having a cold.

And avoid asking your pediatrician for an antibiotic when your child just has a cold. Antibiotics don’t help colds get better faster.

What To Know About Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms

Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than having a cold, is having a child with a cold and feeling helpless that you can’t do more to control their cold symptoms.

More Information About Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms