Childhood Illness

When to Seek Medical Attention

Parents know they have choices when their child is sick. They can treat the child at home, make a doctor's appointment, go to the emergency room, or call 911. But at times, knowing which choice to make isn’t always clear.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many childhood illnesses, such as colds, stomachaches, headaches, and fevers, can be safely treated at home. But parents need to know they should always call a health care provider if they have any doubts or questions about how to take care of their sick child at home or if they should seek medical attention.

What to treat at home

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can treat your child at home if:

  • The child’s symptoms are common, mild, and familiar.
  • The child is active and alert even though he or she has a fever, headache, or another symptom.

If your child has a fever, the thing to remember is that it’s not how high the temperature is, but how your child is feeling and acting that determines if he or she needs to see a health care provider. For example, you can most likely home-treat a child with a temperature of 101 degrees who’s up and about and acting normally. But a child who’s lethargic and irritable should see a health care provider even with a temperature of 100 degrees. A fever is generally considered to be 100.4 degrees F and higher.

When to call the doctor

If your child has more serious symptoms, call a health care provider for advice. He or she will tell you what further steps to take.

When you call, be prepared to give detailed information regarding the child’s symptoms, such as when they started and if they have changed.

If your child has any of these symptoms or conditions, call your health care provider's office:

  • Cold, flu, or a stomachache that’s getting worse after several days of home care
  • Sore throat that’s severe or lasts longer than two days, or a sore throat associated with stomach pain
  • Stomach pain that’s chronic
  • A cough that is getting worse or is accompanied by a new fever
  • Vomiting or diarrhea along with signs of dehydration, such as not urinating three times in 24 hours
  • Pain when urinating
  • An injury you can’t treat yourself but that is not an emergency--a small, blistered burn, for example

When it's an emergency

Call 911 or take your child to the emergency room immediately if he or she has any of these symptoms:

  • Abnormal or difficult breathing
  • Decreasing alertness
  • Skin or lips that look blue or purple
  • Unconsciousness
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Severe burn or poisoning
  • Seizure

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Fevers

A fever is defined by most doctors as a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and higher. A fever caused by infection actually helps the body destroy its microbial invader. It also stimulates an inflammatory response, which sends all kinds of substances to the area of infection to protect the area, prevent the spread of the invader, and start the healing process. The following conditions can cause a fever:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Certain medications
  • Heat stroke
  • Blood transfusion
  • Disorders in the brain
  • Some kinds of cancer
  • Some autoimmune diseases

The symptoms of a fever may resemble other medical conditions. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher, you should call your health care provider immediately. If you are unsure, always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

In children, a fever that is making them uncomfortable should be treated. Treating your child's fever will not help the body get rid of the infection any faster; it simply will relieve discomfort associated with fever. Children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years can develop seizures from fever (called febrile seizures). If your child does have a febrile seizure, there is a chance that the seizure may occur again, but, usually, children outgrow the febrile seizures. A febrile seizure does not mean your child has epilepsy. There is no evidence that treating the fever will reduce the risk of having a febrile seizure.

Call your child's doctor immediately if your child is younger than 3 months old and his or her temperature is greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).

If your child is older than 3 months, call your doctor right away if:

  • Your child is crying inconsolably.
  • Your child is difficult to awaken.
  • Your child has been in a very hot place, such as inside a hot car.
  • Your child has a seizure (convulsion).
  • Your child has other symptoms such as a severe headache, stiff neck, or an unexplained rash.
  • Your child is taking steroids or has an immune system problem, such as cancer.
  • Your child looks or acts very sick.
  • The fever rises repeatedly to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) or higher.
  • Your child has severe vomiting or diarrhea.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if any of the following conditions are present:

  • Your child is 2 years or younger, and the fever persists for more than 24 hours.
  • Your child is older than 2 years and has had a fever more than 72 hours.
  • Your child seems to be getting worse or still acts sick when the fever comes down.
  • You have other concerns or questions.

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The Flu in Children

Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral infection and is one of the most severe illnesses of the winter season. Influenza is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, bronchial tubes, and lungs.Influenza can make people of any age ill. Although most people, including children, are ill with influenza for less than a week, some have a much more serious illness and may need to be hospitalized. Influenza may also lead to pneumonia or death.

An influenza virus is generally passed from person to person through the air. This means your child can get the flu by coming in contact with infected person who sneezes or coughs. The virus can also live for a short time on objects like doorknobs, pens or pencils, keyboards, telephone receivers, and eating or drinking utensils. So your child can get the flu virus by touching something that has been handled by someone infected with the virus and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or eyes. People are generally the most contagious with the flu 24 hours before they start having symptoms and during the time they have the most symptoms. That's why it is hard to prevent the spread of the flu, especially among children, because they do not always know they are sick while they are still spreading the disease. The risk of infecting others usually stops around the seventh day of the infection.

Influenza is called a respiratory disease, but the whole body seems to suffer when a child has it. Children usually become suddenly ill with any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Fever, which may be as high as 103° F (39.4° C) to 105° F (40.5° C)
  • Muscle and joint aches and pains
  • Not feeling well "all over"
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Worsening cough
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

Most people recover from influenza within a week, but they still feel exhausted for as long as 3 to 4 weeks. The symptoms of influenza may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

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Other Infectious Disease

Fighting infectious diseases today is much easier than in the past. With proper hygiene and proper precautions, in addition to numerous vaccines and rapidly advancing medical technology, people are better equipped than ever to avoid getting sick. Prevention is the key to fighting many infectious diseases. Part of preventing the spread of an infectious disease includes proper hand-washing techniques; taking certain precautions, depending on the disease; following the nationally recommended immunization schedule for children and adults, and taking medications correctly. Even with proper prevention, sometimes a disease is unavoidable. Some reasons include evolution of drug-resistant strains of a disease; changes in a person's environment; increased travel; inappropriate use of prescription drugs; and lack of attention to proper personal hygiene.

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