Diarrhoea has since been identified over the World as one of the top 5 killers in children below the age of five years, particularly in developing countries. Awareness of its symptoms and knowledge of initial treatment (at least before proper medical help can be sought) is very important and can be crucial in saving the life of a child, as many deaths have been attributed to Mothers’ poor knowledge of symptoms and proper treatment.
WHAT IS DIARRHOEA?
Diarrhoea is simply defined as the passage of three (3) or more watery stools in a 24hour period. Faeces is usually bulky when passed, and every body has his or her own normal frequency of going to the toilet. The moment the stool starts getting watery, and the child is visiting the toilet more often, that child is said to have diarrhoea. While some cases of diarrhoea resolve on its own, some actually go on to cause serious problems if not tackled on time.
WHAT CAUSES DIARRHOEA?
1. Poor hygiene: Not washing hands after going to toilet, not washing hands before and after cooking etc
2. Infection: Certain viruses have been known to cause outbreaks of diarrhoea among people staying close to each other e.g nurseries and creches. Diarrhoea can also be a symptom of some other disease like, Cholera, Malaria and thyphoid fever.
3. Food Poisoning: Sometimes, even after obeying the laws of hygiene like washing hands during cooking, the food itself may already be loaded with bacteria which go on to cause diarrhoea when eaten.
4. Sharing facilities with Infected Persons: This happens when towels, cups and other items are shared with infected persons who have diarrhoea
5. Unusual Diet: This happens when we occasionally take foods that are not on our usual menu. There might be nothing wrong with the food, or cooking itself, but our bodies react differently to things it is not used to. This type of diarrhoea does not usually last very long.
6. Some antibiotics have also been known to cause diarrhoea
WHAT SYMPTOMS AM I TO LOOK OUT FOR?
The main sign of diarrhoea which is responsible for the majority of deaths is dehydration.
Dehydration is simply the lack of adequate water in the body. This is mainly due to the fact that most of the body’s water is lost in the faeces, thereby leaving us a bit short of water in our body. So, most of the symptoms to look out for are mainly as a result of dehydration.
1. Weight loss: You actually find the child is thinner and dryer, or even smaller
2. Decreased activity: The child is no longer as active as he/she used to be.
3. Crumpled Skin: You may notice that an otherwise chubby and plumpy child looks emaciated.
4. Sunken Eyes
5. Excessive Thirst: The child always wants to drink water
6. Reduced Urine: This may be difficult to notice, but can be a very important symptom
7. Drowsiness: The child usually feels somewhat sleepy during times when they are usually active. This is a very serious symptom
8. Crying but no tears: Usually children tear very well when they cry, but when a child is crying and you notice very minimal or no tears, it’s a sign that he is lacking fluids in the body.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I NOTICE SYMPTOMS?
Like earlier said, Mothers who know what diarrhoea is, and are able to notice symptoms very early, will have a head start, and are likely to avert more serious problems. The main problem of diarrhoea is loss of body fluid. That fluid is mostly water and salt. The aim of treatment is to attempt to replace them as much as possible.
1. If the child simply had diarrhoea, but showed no signs or symptoms of dehydration, continue normal feeding. Keep watching out for dehydration as the symptoms may show up later.
2. If dehydration develops, encourage intake of fluids, especially water. Avoid fruit juices and other carbonated drinks as these tend to worsen dehydration.
3. If dehydration starts becoming severe, for example the child starts getting sunken eyes, crying without tears or getting drowsy, you can commence the Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) especially if medical help is still far away. This can go a long way in saving the life of the child. ORS is sold in packets , but some areas may not be accessible to places where they are sold. Fortunately, this solution is very easy to make at home, as it is just a little salt and sugar put into water. The right proportion is important to ensure the child gets the maximum benefits.
4. If you are in any form of doubt about the Child’s symptoms, it is better to be cautious and give the child ORS. It has no side effects and will help if the child is dehydrated without showing symptoms.
5. Seek medical advice immediately, even after giving ORS.
MAKING Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) AT HOME
1. Six (6) level teaspoons of SUGAR
2. Half teaspoon of SALT
3. 1 Litre of WATER. If you do not have a measuring jug, you could use the 1 Litre large coke bottle.
4. Mix 1,2 and 3 above together and shake properly. Administer as much as the child can tolerate. Continue giving even if the child is vomiting. You can pause when he vomits, then attempt to give again. This is very important.
5. Seek medical help once the opportunity arises.
HOW CAN I PREVENT DIARRHOEA FROM HAPPENING IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Prevention as they say, is always better than cure. Knowing the very easy steps to prevent diarrhoea from occurring can go a long way in saving the stress that the condition brings when it occurs. It should be noted that diarrhoea can still occur even after the most stringent measures have been taken, but they will always be fewer and far between.
1. The most important step which has prevented most cases of diarrhoea is HYGIENE. Wash hands before and after preparing meals, after using the toilet, after changing baby nappies and basically after contact with unusual environments, especially in places where people with known diarrhoea are known to have visited.
2. Ensure sanitary conditions around your immediate environment are clean. Many times we are not aware how much our hands actually touches our mouth. If our immediate environments are not clean, one of those moments we just may introduce bacteria into our digestive system without knowing.
3. Avoid close contact with people who are known to have diarrhoea, until the primary cause of diarrhoea has been ascertained. Certain viruses like the Noro Virus are quite contagious and can lead to large outbreaks in nurseries.
4. Boil water properly before drinking. Certain diseases like cholera can cause very watery and profuse diarrhoea which quickly leads to death. Boiling water and foods properly can actually reduce the chances of contacting cholera, and other diarrhoea related illnesses.
5. Ensure vaccines are taken at the right time. There are places where vaccines against cholera and other diseases are available. Avail yourself of the vaccines in your area and take the opportunity to vaccinate your child against them.
With these few steps, it is very likely that cases of diarrhoea will be very few and far between, if any. And on the few occasions when they occur, you will be well informed of the steps to take towards making sure it is tackled properly.
Article written for TBHI by Dr. Obinna Aligwekwe.
Picture credit: unicef.org