How sick is my child?
It is often difficult for parents to take that decision about whether a child is well enough for school, or when to call a doctor. NHS has provided the following useful information:
Most people become proficient at identifying symptoms that don’t require calling a doctor; they often aren’t sure when symptoms become serious enough to require a call to the doctor or a hospital visit. This leaflet may help!
Most Important Trust Your Instincts
Parents are often accurate judges of their children’s mental and physical health. If you suspect something is wrong, call the doctor or take sick children to a hospital. Although your instincts may be wrong, you will at least have ruled out anything serious.
Identifying Minor Symptoms
Some minor symptoms of sick children include:
- Mild fever
- Runny nose
While diagnosing illness should be left to medical professionals, parents can often make accurate guesses when sick children have a cold or a mild case of the flu.
However, if even mild symptoms persist, parents should call the doctor. Cold symptoms that last for longer than two weeks may indicate allergies or other respiratory complications. On-going vomiting or diarrhoea dehydrates children quickly, causing other serious complications.
Any of the following symptoms may indicate the need for further diagnosis and, therefore, may require calling the doctors or emergency treatment
- a chronic cough that interrupts sleep
- behavioural changes
- bulge or swelling in crotch or scrotum
- small burns
- head trauma
- swollen hands, feet or face
- tender abdomen
- fever higher than 37.8°C in infants under three months
- fever higher than 38.3°C in children older than three months
- if a baby misses two or more back-to-back feedings
- nosebleeds that don’t stop after 10 minutes
- prolonged fever that does not respond to medication
- rapid breathing or wheezing
- skin rashes, blisters or hives
- small wounds that don’t heal
- sudden increase or decrease in urination
- unexplained bruising
- unusual and sudden change in stool composition, colour or odour
- yellow skin or eye whites
Diarrhoea and vomiting can cause dehydration. Calling a doctor is necessary if symptoms of dehydration are observed because dehydration can cause further physical complications.
A dehydrated child will have a dry mouth, lips and skin and will not produce tears even when crying. Failure to urinate within a six-hour period is another sign of dehydration. Dehydrated infants often develop a sunken soft spot, of fontanel, on their heads.
Identifying Symptoms of An Emergency
Calling the doctor is not enough in some cases. The following symptoms require immediate emergency medical treatment:
- burns covering large areas of skin
- difficulty breathing or sudden cessation of breathing
- facial or throat swelling that restricts breathing
- limpness and paralysis
- severe abdominal pain
- severe bleeding or injury
- sudden loss of vision
- If baby/child is unconscious (you can’t wake him/her up), if he/she is having fits or convulsions (jerky, controllable movements).
Pale colour is a more complicated symptom: While paleness may merely indicate that child has a mild illness, it can also be a symptom of a more serious condition. A pale tinge or pale grey colour to the face, fingernails and toenails may indicate a serious respiratory condition.
How to Help the Doctor/Emergency Services
When you decide calling the doctor is necessary, you can help the doctor diagnose sick children by providing as much information as possible. Don’t make vague statements such as “She seems sick”. Specifically identifying symptoms, their severity and how long they’ve been occurring is much more helpful.
The doctors may need to ask specific questions while diagnosing illness over the phone. Having a list of symptoms and other information prepared facilitates talking with your doctor to identify your child’s illness.
Questions the doctor may ask include:
- Are the symptoms worsening?
- How does the child describe symptoms?
- How long have the symptoms been present?
- What are your concerns as a parent?
- What symptoms are present?
Remember – Trust Your Instincts
If you suspect something is wrong, do not hesitate to call the doctor or take sick children to hospital. If you are still concerned do not be afraid to ask a second opinion.
This is not a definitive document but aims to provide guidelines for you.