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Gastroenteritis - What You Need To Know

Is there anything that can wake a sleeping parent faster than a child standing next to your bed saying they feel like they are going to vomit? Unfortunately these awakenings are set to continue as Gastroenteritis (more commonly known as stomach flu) rotates through our community this winter. How can you help prevent getting it, or if you have it in your house, treat it? Read on to learn more!

Let's Get Down Our Lingo

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach and intestines. The flu or influenza is different since it tends to affect parts of the body like the throat, head, or upper respiratory regions and causes fevers, general aches and pains, etc. The flu is typically not going to cause stomach problems. Gastroenteritis is brought on by viral infections but can be caused by bacteria. If you have a viral strain, there isn't much that antibiotics can do, the stomach bug is going to have to run its course.


Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, so being on the lookout for those around you who are ill and giving a good wide distance until they are fully healthy is a good rule of thumb. If you feel you have been exposed to someone who has gastroenteritis, limit your contact with those who are vulnerable, the elderly or very young, as much as possible.

Wash your hands: make it a routine throughout your day. You should wash your hands with warm water and an antibacterial soap. Wash for as long as it takes you to sing your ABCs (about 20 seconds or so). Dry with a clean dry towel, paper or cloth, and dispose of the towel either in the laundry or the trash.

Keep your hands out of your face, primarily your T-Zone. The T-Zone is basically your eyes, nose or the region around your mouth. The less contact your hands have with your face and the T-zone, the better your chances of limiting germs from successfully gaining entry to your body. You can limit your exposure further by not sharing glasses, lip balms or utensils. The more isolated you can make these items, the better, and instruct your kiddos to do the same!

Try and get plenty of rest and eat a good nutrient-rich diet. This will support your immune system, enabling it to fight off viruses or make them short lived. Your immune system is kind of like your personal army, your defense and the better equipped, rested and fed an army is, the better it fights.

Dealing with Stomach Bugs

If you are working through the stomach bug in your home, there are certain things you can do while waiting for it to run its course. Be sure to call your health care provider for advice before beginning any type of home care regimen and to rule out any other health concerns.

Push Fluids

Not just any fluids though! Water is especially important; however, if you or any member of your family is ill with stomach ailments, you will lose not only fluids, but vitamins and minerals too. The best source of all these items are drinks that contain water plus electrolytes. You can purchase many drinks that help replenish these stores over the counter in the form of sports drinks or specific mixtures that can be given even to children as young as infants. One caution though: many of these drinks have LOADS of sugars, so sip don't gulp!

Keep your children away from dairy, milk can make stomach problems even worse. If you are the parent of an infant or very young child, talk to your health care provider about breastfeeding or giving formulas during Gastroenteritis. Any drinks that have a heavy load of acid or caffeine can also cause further stomach aches. If you give juice make sure to water it down somewhat before your child drinks. Too much of a good thing can make tummy troubles worse, so take it slow.

Eat Slowly

If your child is drinking and keeping down fluids well, you can start adding foods, but stick to the BRAT diet. This diet is bland and includes foods like Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, dry Toast. Limit added spices, sugars, fats and heavy proteins that will make tummies have to put in extra work right now. Broths are also good to include as they can give your child proteins they need while not taxing their digestive system.

Leave Out The Meds

Time is the healer here. Over the counter meds may make the situation worse and antibiotics aren't going to help. Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen can cause further internal problems (Note: if your child has a fever though, contact your health care provider who will help recommend an appropriate dosage) and anti-diarrhea medications can make the infection last even longer and can be dangerous for the very young. Best to stick with rest, fluids, & nutrition and let the virus run its course.

When To See Your Provider:

Most cases of the stomach bug will resolve over the course of a few days. You may want to contact your health care provider if it continues past this time or if you notice signs of dehydration like:

  • Not urinating
  • Dry mouth
  • Crying without tears
  • Fever over 102° F
  • Lack of energy
  • Crankiness
  • Soft spot on the top of the baby's head is sunken
  • Blood or pus in stool, or dark tarry stool

Your child may need to get checked sooner if they have other conditions, such as diabetes, that put them at higher risk for fluid loss. In the case of any type of illness it is always a good process to establish lines of communication with your health care provider so they can note your child's medical file and be looped in should they need to advise on their progress.