Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) is a method of fluid replacement used in the treatment and prevention of dehydration and is most common in cases of diarrhea. In short, it consists of drinking fluids that are designed specifically to rehydrate using a combination of salts, sugar, and water. Studies show that their use can decrease the risk of death from diarrhea by 93%.
ORT is usually administered orally, but can also be given via a nasogastric tube, which is a tube that is inserted through the nose and passes to the stomach.
How Does ORT Work?
ORT works not to stop diarrhea, but to replace the fluids and essential salts that your body has lost, therefore preventing dehydration. The sugar (glucose) in these solutions works to support your intestines to better absorb the water and salts. Except for in severe cases, ORT usually makes intravenous fluid therapy unnecessary.
Oral Rehydration Solutions and When to Use Them
In the case of both children and adults (but especially young children), starting to administer ORT after severe or persistent diarrhea is a good idea. Letting diarrhea go untreated can end in dehydration and malnutrition.
You can purchase World Health Organization-approved Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) at your local pharmacy, drugstore, or even online.
For an easy, homemade oral rehydration solution, combine until dissolved:
- 6 teaspoons of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 liter of clean water
The measurements should be exact, as too much of one ingredient could make diarrhea symptoms worse. Other options include fresh and natural fruit juice or coconut water, which can be useful if an ORS solution is unavailable.
ORS combinations are often administered alongside zinc supplementation, but it’s best to discuss this option and specific dosing requirements with your doctor.
Children under the age of two should be given 2-4 ounces of this solution after every watery stool, and kids ages two and over should get 4-8 ounces after each watery stool. Diarrhea should stop within about 3-4 days, so check with your doctor if it continues.
Not only has oral rehydration therapy saved lives for decades, but it can also be used at home to prevent dehydration from any bout of diarrhea, in both kids and adults.