What is intravenous rehydration?

Your doctor, or your child’s doctor, may prescribe intravenous (IV) rehydration to treat moderate to severe cases of dehydration. It’s more commonly used to treat children than adults. Children are more likely than adults to become dangerously dehydrated when they’re ill. Exercising vigorously without drinking enough fluids can also lead to dehydration.

During IV rehydration, fluids will be injected in your child’s body through an IV line. Different fluids may be used, depending on the situation. Usually, they will consist of water with a little bit of salt or sugar added.

IV rehydration involves a few small risks. They’re generally outweighed by the benefits, especially since severe dehydration can be life-threatening if left untreated.

When your child becomes dehydrated, they lose fluids from their body. These fluids contain water and dissolved salts, called electrolytes. To treat mild cases of dehydration, encourage your child to drink water and fluids that contain electrolytes, such as sports drinks or over-the-counter rehydration solutions. To treat moderate to severe cases of dehydration, oral rehydration may not be enough. Your child’s doctor or emergency medical staff may recommend IV rehydration.

Children often become dehydrated from being sick. For example, vomiting, having diarrhea, and developing a fever can raise your child’s risk of becoming dehydrated. They’re more likely to experience severe dehydration than adults. They’re also more likely to need IV rehydration to restore their fluid balance.

Adults can also become dehydrated. For example, you may experience dehydration when you’re sick. You can also become dehydrated after exercising vigorously without drinking enough fluids. Adults are less likely to need IV rehydration than children, but your doctor may prescribe it in some cases.

If you suspect you or your child is moderately to severely dehydrated, seek medical attention. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • reduced urine output
  • dry lips and tongue
  • dry eyes
  • dry wrinkled skin
  • rapid breathing
  • cool and blotchy feet and hands

To administer IV rehydration, your child’s doctor or nurse will insert an IV line into a vein in their arm. This IV line will consist of a tube with a needle on one end. The other end of the line will be connected to a bag of fluids, which will be hung above your child’s head.

Your child’s doctor will determine what type of fluid solution they need. It will depend on their age, existing medical conditions, and the severity of their dehydration. Your child’s doctor or nurse can regulate the amount of fluid entering their body using an automated a pump or manual adjustable valve attached to their IV line. They will check your child’s IV line from time to time to ensure your child is receiving the right amount of fluids. They will also make sure the thin plastic tube in your child’s arm is secure and not leaking. The length of your child’s treatment time, and the amount of fluids that your child needs, will depend on the severity of their dehydration.

The same procedure is used for adults.

The risks associated with IV rehydration are low for most people.

Your child may feel a mild sting when their IV line is injected, but the pain should quickly subside. There’s also a small risk of infection developing at the injection site. In most cases, such infections can be treated easily.

If the IV remains in your child’s vein for a long period of time, it can cause their vein to collapse. If this happens, their doctor or nurse will likely move the needle to a different vein and apply a warm compress to the area.

Your child’s IV can also become dislodged. This can cause a condition called infiltration. This happens when IV fluids enter tissues around your child’s vein. If your child experiences infiltration, they may develop a bruise and stinging sensation at the insertion site. If this happens, their doctor or nurse can reinsert the needle and apply a warm compress to reduce swelling. To lower your child’s risk of this potential complication, encourage them to stay still during IV rehydration. This is especially important for young children, who may not understand the importance of staying still.

IV rehydration can also potentially cause a nutrient imbalance in your child’s body. This can happen if their IV fluid solution contains the wrong mix of electrolytes. If they develop signs of a nutrient imbalance, their doctor may stop their IV rehydration treatment or adjust their fluid solution.

The same risks apply to adults who undergo IV rehydration. Your doctor or child’s doctor can help you understand the potential risks and benefits. In most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. If left untreated, severe dehydration can lead to life-threatening complications.