It’s 2am. I can see the clock behind the bed-head of my crying 2-year-old. “What’s wrong?” I ask.

No answer. Up he crawls into my bed where he sleeps for an hour tossing and turning and kicking (me).

He sits up whining. Looks at me with his deer-in-the-headlights gaze of fear. I grab for something, anything! And there it is. Yesterday’s dinner… or lunch… or even breakfast?

Stomach Flu, also known as gastroenteritis, is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhea.  It is always miserable, highly contagious, and downright disgusting.  

Nausea and vomiting are often the first symptoms. Later, the diarrhea usually sets in complete with belly pain.

Helpless pretty much sums up the way most parents feel when they have a child with these symptoms. Thankfully, most kids will improve enough over the course of a day to start drinking and keep themselves hydrated. Hydration is the key. Dehydration makes you more nauseated and feel worse overall.

Things to consider:

  1. Let your kids drink whatever they want (within reason). Water and Pedialyte type solutions are preferred but some amount of juice, soda, popsicles, Jello or other clear liquids will get the job done.
  2. Don’t wait until the vomiting is completely gone to make your child drink.  We go by the “you vomit, you drink” rule.
  3. Drinking is not a choice. Insist and be consistent. Be mean. “Baby” them in other ways, but this is a must. I promise an IV is a much less desirable choice for most kids.
  4. Filling a medication syringe or spoon or offering popsicles, etc. allows your child to take in fluids but at a slow rate. These are labor intensive methods, but worth saving yourself a dehydrated child and a trip to the ER.
  5. If your child does not have diarrhea, keep an extra close eye on them. If they have a severe headache, strange rash, severe belly pain or other unusual symptom, call your doctor or nurse line to discuss.
  6. Signs of significant dehydration include dry mouth, no tears, no urine for more than 8 hours. 
  7. If the vomiting is more than you think you and your child can handle, prescription medications can help. They are often used in ERs for more severe cases, but in some situations your primary doctor can determine if it’s appropriate to prescribe them.
  8. WASH YOUR HANDS and sanitize the bathroom handles (sink, toilet etc.).  These viruses are very contagious and can take 1-4 days to show symptoms in their next victim. People remain contagious for several days or even longer. 

My son and I survived. I am not looking forward to next time. I am sure it will come, but for now I will live with the naïve thought that this was my last encounter with “yesterday’s lunch.”

Dr. Kirstin Lee is a pediatric hospitalist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.


Expert Advice