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Stomach bug relief for children

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 01.06.2023 | 4 minutes read

Children catch stomach bugs really easily, and they feel pretty rotten while it lasts. It can be tough to see them unwell, but parents also feel exasperated that it will be a good few days before their child or toddler can return to school or nursery.

Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis in children

Stomach bugs, also known as gastroenteritis or "stomach flu", mostly cause diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach ache, pain or cramps, and sometimes fever. Most tummy bugs are infections caused by a virus and essentially their body needs time to do the hard work. Unfortunately there's nothing we doctors can prescribe to chase it away any sooner, it resolves by itself.

But there are ways to help them feel more comfortable while they battle on, and there are things you can give them to avoid further illness.

What causes stomach bugs?

Tummy bugs are most often viral, but they can also be caused by bacteria and parasites. Rotavirus is the most common gastric virus, with nearly every child in the UK coming across it by the age of 5, and they are given a vaccine in the UK childhood immunisation programme, to protect them. Adenovirus and norovirus can also cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

Bacterial infection can cause fever and bloody diarrhoea, and they may appear more unwell. The most likely bacteria are Campylobacter, E. Coli and Salmonella.

How long does gastroenteritis last?

Symptoms usually last between 24 and 48 hours, but may last up to 10 days – hopefully with improvement during that time.

With infective gastroenteritis, your child or toddler is contagious from the time they get the first symptoms of diarrhoea or vomiting until they have recovered.

Vomiting usually lasts 1 to 2 days, diarrhoea from 5 to 7 days, and they need a further 2 days since their last vomit or diarrhoea, before they can go back to school. For parents, this a dreaded several days off work to stay home with them.

They should stay off school and avoid pregnant or immune-compromised people until their symptoms have resolved for 48 hours.

Handy tips to relieve stomach bug

When children catch gastroenteritis, they lose additional fluids through vomiting and diarrhoea. This can cause dehydration. As a result, it’s important to make sure your child drinks plenty of water little and often throughout the day.

Keep them hydrated

Aim for sips little and often to avoid dehydration, as big intakes at once can stretch the stomach and stimulate vomiting. Keep an eye on their intake and how much they are passing urine.

Adapt breast feeding or bottles

If your baby or toddler bottle or breast fed, try giving smaller feeds more often, and they can have sips of water in between, and keep an eye on the number of wet nappies and how heavy they feel, compared to usual.

Top up electrolytes

Diarrhoea and vomiting risk not only dehydration but also loss of important electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which can make them feel worse and puts them at risk of serious illness. Rehydration salts can help redress the balance.

Avoid infection spread

Stomach bugs are very contagious, and you want to avoid the whole household coming down with an infection. If you have more than one bathroom, try to keep one solely for your infected child to use, and avoid them sharing cutlery or cups, clothes or towels with anyone else in the family. Wash any contaminated clothes, bedding or towels separately on a hot wash.

Wash your hands

Everyone in the house should follow strict hand hygiene, including washing hands with soap and water after toileting and before preparing or eating food. Those who are unwell should not prepare or serve food for others.

Stick to plain foods

Dairy products, sugary foods, spicy and flavourful food should be avoided. Sticking to soft, dry, basic foods like soup or dry toast is best.

Pharmacist recommended products

Children's tummy bug Health Kit
Effective relief for
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Binds toxins or allergens in the gut
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Eliminates gastric irritants from the body
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Relieves diarrheoa
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Relieves trapped wind
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Replenish electrolytes
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Restore fluid balance
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Prevents dehydration
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Supports natural friendly gut flora
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Suitable from birth
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Added vitamin d3 for immune support
More info
Out of stock
Recommended by Healthwords pharmacist
Why this Health Kit

Gastroenteritis can occur due to viral infections or food poisoning contaminated by bacteria. In some cases, a food allergy may also be a cause.

Very often, the body's natural response is to clear toxins in the gut and flush them out by causing vomiting and/or diarrhoea to occur. Gastroenteritis can also lead to fever (since the immune system is activated), sweating, and symptoms of abdominal cramps, dehydration, lethargy, and fatigue due to loss of fluid and electrolytes.

This health kit aims to:

  • relieve the symptoms of diarrhoea, trapped wind and painful bloating
  • help eliminate allergens and pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • restore electrolyte and fluid balance
  • aid recovery by supporting the natural gut flora post-infection.

O.R.S Hydration Strawberry Soluble Tablets can help replenish fluid and electrolytes lost during bouts of diarrhoea and prevent dehydration. The salts can also help reduce the risk of cramp.

Enterosgel® Kids is an intestinal adsorbent (enterosorbent) that binds toxins, harmful substances, pathogens, and allergens in the GI tract. Clostridium difficile, Shigella, and E.coli toxins can cause diarrhoea by inflaming colon mucosal cells.

Enterosgel can bind bacterial toxins and bile acids, and other GI-disorder-causing substances and viruses, according to a 2019 UK study.

Improving gut health can lead to a reduction in IBS symptoms. After clearing toxins associated with a bout of IBS associated with diarrhoea, or a course of antibiotics, it is a good idea to replenish and improve the number of good bacteria.

OptiBac Probiotics For babies & children is a natural supplement especially suited to infants, children and pregnant & breastfeeding mothers. This digestive supplement contains strains proven to survive to reach the digestive system and is designed to complement the body's natural gut bacteria. An expertly formulated digestive supplement for little tummies.

Especially created for babies & children with 3 strains of highly researched friendly bacteria, Vitamin D3 and FOS fibres which increase your child's natural gut bacteria.

After a bout of gastroenteritis or viral sickness and diarrhoea, the natural gut flora balance is often out of balance. Taking a course of Optibac as part of this recovery kit may help the gut to recover after an infection.

Note: Always read the information leaflets and specific product information before purchasing, as some products may not be suitable for all patients. This is especially so if you take other medicines or suffer from other medical conditions. Please speak to your local pharmacist, doctor, or another qualified health practitioner if you are unsure about anything.

When should my child see a doctor?

You should discuss with your doctor if your child is:

  • vomiting and unable to keep fluids down
  • drinking considerably less over a 12 to 24 hour period, or breast/bottle feeding less
  • passing considerably less urine, or having fewer wet nappies, or urine smells strong and looks dark
  • having diarrhoea for more than 7 days
  • vomiting for more than 2 days
  • has bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from the back passage
  • travelled to south-east Asia or Africa within the last 3 months

You should attend the Emergency Department or call 999 if your child has:*

  • severe abdominal pain
  • vomited blood or what looks like coffee grounds
  • green or yellowy-green vomit
  • a stiff neck, a new rash, and is unable to look at bright lights
  • a sudden severe headache
  • seems unwell – trust your instinct

How to prevent stomach bugs

The best way to prevent stomach bugs from making your child unwell is to practise good hygiene, and encourage your child to practice good hygiene. It’s important that everybody washes their hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 01.06.2023
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