Diarrhoea and vomiting
Feeling sick and then vomiting is usually the first sign that your child has a ‘tummy bug’.
Diarrhoea tends to occur after your child has started vomiting and means passing frequent watery poos that are offensive in nature.
Tummy bugs are extremely common in young children and are almost always caused by a virus. They are easily spread, resulting in outbreaks in nurseries and schools.
Babies under one year of age (and especially under six months of age) are at more risk of becoming dehydrated when they have a tummy bug than older children. This is why it’s important to make sure they are drinking enough.
Watch this Operation Ouch video on diarrhoea and vomiting that you can watch with your child:
Check if your child has any red symptoms:
- Your child becomes pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to touch.
- Going blue around the lips or too breathless to talk, eat or drink.
- Becomes extremely agitated, confused or very lethargic (difficult to wake).
- Develops a rash that does not disappear with pressure (the ‘Glass Test’).
Actions to take if your child has any red symptoms
- Your child may require emergency treatment.
- You should call 999 or take them to your NEAREST Emergency Department where they can be assessed.
If there are no red symptoms, check if your child has any amber symptoms:
- Your child seems dehydrated or has not passed any urine for 12 hours.
- Has blood in the stool (poo).
- Has constant tummy pain.
- Has completely stopped drinking or breastfeeding.
- Is unable to keep down any fluids during this illness.
- Is becoming drowsy (excessively sleepy) or irritable (unable to settle them with cuddles, toys, TV or snacks) – especially if they remain drowsy or irritable despite any fever coming down.
- Is three to six months of age with a temperature of 39°C / 102.2°F or above (please note fever is common in babies up to two days after they receive vaccinations, but children under three months old with a fever need to be seen in the Emergency Department) – how to take your child’s temperature.
If your child has diabetes, monitor their blood sugars closely and follow your sick day rules.
Options if your child has any amber symptoms
Your child does not need to be taken to the Emergency Department immediately, but you should seek medical advice today.
- ring your GP surgery during their usual opening hours
- contact the out of hours GP if the surgery is closed
If symptoms continue for four hours or more and you have not been able to speak to your GP or the out of hours GP, consider going to your nearest Emergency Department.
If your child develops any of the red symptoms above, go to your nearest Emergency Department.
If no red or amber symptoms are present:
- your child does not seem to have any symptoms of serious illness or injury
- you can get general advice on the NI Direct website or from your local pharmacy
If your child develops any of the red or amber symptoms above, follow the advice in these sections.
How you can help manage your child’s diarrhoea or vomiting at home
- Avoiding dehydration is important – give your baby / child extra fluids. Give your baby oral rehydration solution (ORS) or half strength apple juice (apple juice mixed with the same amount of water) in between feeds or after each watery stool. Little and often tends to work best – in hospital, babies are given one or two teaspoons (5 to 10 millilitres) of fluid to drink every 5 to 10 minutes. You can try using a syringe to give fluids to your child. Mixing the contents of the ORS sachet in diluted squash (not ‘sugar-free’ squash) instead of water may improve the taste. Do not give water alone. It is important to replace the sugar and salts lost.
- Do not stop giving your baby milk. If you are breastfeeding, continue doing so.
- Do not worry if your child is not interested in solid food. If they are hungry, offer them plain food such as biscuits, bread, pasta or rice. It is advisable not to give them fizzy drinks as this can make diarrhoea worse.
- To avoid spreading the virus, wash your hands with soap and water after changing nappies. Keep toilets clean and don’t share towels.
- They should not return to school or any other childcare facility until 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea and / or vomiting.
Download ‘Diarrhoea and vomiting’ advice sheet – please note NHS 111 is not available in Northern Ireland.
Vomiting tends to last for one or two days, and diarrhoea tends to last for about five days.
- If it is non-urgent, speak to your local pharmacist or health visitor.
- Alternatively, you can contact your GP practice and a qualified member of the clinical team will check whether your child needs to be seen urgently. Out of hours GP details are available here.
- You should only call 999 or go your nearest Emergency Department in critical or life-threatening situations.
- See our section: How does the Children’s Emergency Department Work?