When you have diarrhea and vomiting, you can say you have the “stomach flu.” These symptoms are often caused by a condition called stomach flu.
With stomach flu, your stomach and intestines become irritated and inflamed. The cause is usually a viral or bacterial infection.
Symptoms of Stomach Flu
With the stomach flu, your main symptoms are probably watery diarrhea and vomiting. You may also have abdominal pain, cramps, fever, nausea, and headache.
You can also become dehydrated due to diarrhea and vomiting. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as dry skin and dry mouth, feeling lightheaded, and feeling really thirsty. If you have any of these symptoms call your doctor.
Stomach Flu and Children
Babies can get dehydrated quickly, so if your child has the stomach flu, it’s important that you look for signs that they are very thirsty or have dry skin or a dry mouth. If you have a baby, look for short, dry diapers.
Keep children with stomach flu out of day care or school until all symptoms are gone. Check with your doctor before giving any medicine to your child. Medicines used to control diarrhea and vomiting are usually not given to children under the age of 5.
To help prevent rotavirus — the most common cause of stomach flu for children — there are two vaccines that can be given to infants. Talk to your doctor about vaccines.
What Causes Stomach Flu
There are several ways the stomach flu can spread:
- Contact with someone who has the virus
- Contaminated food or water
- Do not wash hands after going to the bathroom or changing diapers
- The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a virus. The main types are rotavirus and norovirus.
Stomach Flu Diagnosis
Your doctor will diagnose gastroenteritis based on symptoms, a physical exam, and sometimes the presence of similar cases in your community. A rapid stool test can detect rotavirus or norovirus, but there is no rapid test for other viruses that cause gastroenteritis. In some cases, your doctor may ask you to submit a stool sample to rule out a possible bacterial or parasitic infection.
Stomach Flu Treatment
There is often no specific medical treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and their overuse can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Treatment initially includes self-care measures.
Home Remedies for Stomach Flu
To help keep yourself more comfortable and prevent dehydration while you recover, try the following:
- Let your stomach settle. Stop eating solid food for a few hours.
- Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. You can also try drinking clear soda, clear broth or non-caffeinated sports drinks. Drink plenty of fluids each day, taking small, frequent sips.
- Take a rest eating. Start eating soft, easily digestible foods like soda crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas, rice and chicken. If your nausea returns, stop eating.
- Avoid certain foods and substances until you feel better. These include dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and fatty or highly seasoned foods.
- Get plenty of rest. Illness and dehydration may have made you weak and tired.
- Be careful with drugs. Use multiple drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), if at all. They can make your stomach worse. Use acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) with caution. It can sometimes cause liver toxicity, especially in children. Do not give aspirin to children or adolescents because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal disease. Before choosing a pain reliever or fever reducer, discuss it with your child’s pediatrician.
Stomach Flu – Home Remedies For Babies and Toddlers
When your child has an intestinal infection, the most important goal is to replace lost fluids and salts. These tips may help:
- Help your child re-hydrate. Give your child an over-the-counter oral rehydration solution available at pharmacies. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about how to use it.
- Do not give your child plain water– in children with gastroenteritis, water is not absorbed well and will not adequately replace lost electrolytes. Avoid giving your child apple juice for rehydration – it can make diarrhea worse.
- Bring your child back to a normal diet gradually. Gradually introduce soft, easily digestible foods, such as toast, rice, bananas and potatoes.
- Avoid certain foods. Do not give your child dairy products or sweet foods like ice cream, soda and candy. These can make diarrhea worse.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. Illness and dehydration may have made your baby weak and tired.
- Avoid giving your child over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines unless advised to by your doctor. They can make it harder for your child’s body to eliminate the virus.
- If your child is sick, allow your child’s stomach to rest for 15 to 20 minutes after vomiting or diarrhea, then give small amounts of fluids. If you are breastfeeding, allow your baby to feed. If your baby is bottle-fed, give a small amount of oral rehydration solution or regular formula. Do not dilute your baby’s already prepared formula.