How is diarrhoea treated in children?


Treatment will depend on the child’s age, health and symptoms.


If you’re still breastfeeding, continue doing so, as this will help your child to recover from the diarrhoeal disease.

When babies and toddlers are infected with diarrhoeal disease, severe dehydration can occur. Continued breastfeeding during an episode, as well as increased feeding after an episode, can significantly reduce the risk.

Other benefits include minimising weight loss and promoting weight gain after the episode. Breastfeeding can also reduce the severity, duration and negative nutritional consequences of diarrhoeal disease.

Oral rehydrate solution

Oral rehydrate solution (ORS) – a solution made up of 1 litre of boiled (and cooled down) water, 8 tsp sugar and ½ tsp of salt – is used to treat dehydration due to diarrhoea.

ORS gets absorbed in the small intestine in the digestive tract, even when a child has severe diarrhoea, thus replacing the water and electrolytes that are lost in the faeces.


Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if the source of infection is bacterial. A stool sample can be collected and tested by a respectable laboratory to identify which organism is causing the infection.

Bacterial organisms that cause diarrhoeal disease include Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni), yersinia, salmonella, shigella, pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Clostridium difficile (C. difficile).

Zinc supplementation

It’s now been well established that zinc supplementation (10-20mg per day until the diarrhoea stops) may reduce the severity and duration of diarrhoea in children younger than 5 years of age.

Additional studies have shown that a short course of supplementation with zinc (10-20mg per day for up to 14 days) reduces the reoccurrence of diarrhoea for up to 2-3 months.

Multi-vitamin supplementation

It’s recommended that children with persistent diarrhoea that lasts longer than two weeks should take supplementary multivitamins and minerals each day for a duration of two weeks.

Options include syrups or tablets (that can be crushed), which can be given with food. As a guide, these supplements should provide a broad range of vitamins and minerals, including at least two recommended daily allowances (x2 RDAs) of folate (folic acid), vitamin A, zinc, magnesium and copper.

Speak to your doctor or registered dietitian about a good-quality multi-vitamin for your child. You should also try to up your child’s vitamin and mineral intake with the following foods:

  • Folate: Liver, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach), legumes
  • Vitamin A: Liver, breastmilk, orange-fleshed vegetables (carrots, butternut)
  • Zinc: Meat (red meat, poultry), legumes, nuts  
  • Magnesium: Green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach), legumes, wholegrains
  • Copper: Shellfish, liver, nuts, meat, legumes 

Reviewed by Kim Hofmann, registered dietitian, BSc Medical (Honours) Nutrition and Dietetics, BSc (Honours) Psychology. August 2018.

Image credit: iStock

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