What Is Oral Rehydration Therapy And When Will You Need It?
Find out how oral rehydration therapy can treat dehydration caused by viral gastroenteritis and how to prepare the solution at home.
Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) is a treatment for dehydration. It involves drinking a special mixture of water, glucose, and salt. The idea is to return the amount of fluids, sugars, and electrolytes in the body to normal levels.
When do I need oral rehydration therapy?
Most cases of dehydration are very minor and don't need any medical attention. You can easily treat dehydration when you give fluids like water, breast milk, baby formula or diluted juices.
Oral rehydration therapy is the treatment for more serious dehydration. This dehydration is the result of viral gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu. This virus can make your child vomit repeatedly or have prolonged diarrhea. These things can bring about dehydration.
Recently, Lagos State experienced an alarming outbreak of viral gastroenteritis. It was serious enough to cause the death of scores of kids, and the Government intervened.
Benefits of ORS
If your child becomes severely dehydrated, he may need to have his fluids replaced through an intravenous line (IV). However, oral rehydration therapy is as effective as, if not better than, intravenous fluid therapy for rehydrating mild or moderately dehydrated children.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- ORT is less traumatic for a child, as they will not need needle "pokes" for the IV or blood work.
- ORT is easier to give in a range of settings, including at home.
What is in a typical oral rehydration solution?
An oral rehydration solution (ORS) is a specially-created solution that contains a mixture of:
- sodium, potassium and other electrolytes.
Together, these ingredients help replace lost fluids and nutrients that the body needs to work properly. The solution normally takes about five minutes to start passing from the digestive system into the bloodstream.
Where to get oral rehydration solution
Oral rehydration solution is sold at most pharmacies in:
- pre-mixed bottles
- packaged powders that need to be mixed with water.
Examples of commercial brands of ORSs include Pedialyte, Infalyte and Resol.
Pre-mixed liquid ORSs have the correct balance of fluids, salts and glucose. ORS powders are cheaper and have a longer shelf life. However, if a powder is not mixed with the amount of water specified, the resulting solution can either be too concentrated or too diluted, making it less effective.
Whether you use a pre-mixed bottle or packaged powder, follow the dosage directions exactly to maximize the effectiveness of the ORS.
How to give oral rehydration solution to your child
Give your child oral rehydration solution in small, frequent amounts. Use a spoon or dropper to make sure the first doses are very small. Small amounts will allow your child to better retain the ORS and reduce the chance of vomiting.
Gradually increase the amount of ORS until your child is able to drink the full dose recommended for them.
A child under the age of 2 years needs at least 1/4 to 1/2 of a large (250-millilitre) cup of the ORS drink after each watery stool.
A child aged 2 years or older needs at least 1/2 to 1 whole large (250-millilitre) cup of the ORS drink after each watery stool.
If your child refuses to drink the ORS, squirting the solution into his/her mouth with a syringe can be helpful.
In very rare cases, where a child refuses to drink the ORS by any of these measures, the hospital staff will use a nasogastric feeding tube.
Any Other Alternatives To ORS?
The following traditional remedies make highly effective oral rehydration solutions. They are suitable drinks to prevent your child from losing too much liquid during diarrhoea:
- Gruels (diluted mixtures of cooked cereals and water)
- Carrot Soup
- Rice water - Congee
You can also make a very suitable and effective simple solution (popular known as salt and sugar solution) for rehydrating your child at home. All you need are salt and sugar mixed in the following proportions:
- 6 level teaspoons of sugar
- a half level teaspoon of salt
- One litre of clean drinking water or cooled boiled water.
You can also add 1/2 cup orange juice or some mashed banana. This will improve the taste and provide some potassium.
You can use molasses and other forms of raw sugar instead of white sugar. And these contain more potassium than white sugar. Other alternatives:
- Fresh fruit juice
- Weak tea
- Green coconut water
If nothing else is available, give
- water from the cleanest possible source
(if possible brought to the boil and then cooled).