Despite your best intentions as parents, children will get sick. A normal part of childhood, winter colds and flu bugs actually strengthen children’s immune systems as they grow older. However, it can be difficult to gauge when to take your child to the pediatrician, and equally difficult to determine when to send your child back to school after an illness. Most school districts have established guidelines, but there are some general rules you can follow regarding your child’s health at different stages of their lives.
Babies, Newborn through First Birthday
Parents should take any baby under 4 weeks of age to see a doctor when a fever reaches 100.4 degrees, if he or she exhibits inconsolable crying, extended vomiting, more than 8 bowel movements a day or white patches inside the mouth. For older infants, a physician should be consulted for fever over 101 degrees, persistent refusal to eat, extreme sleepiness or extreme irritability. Any child who has been fever-free and symptom-free of gastrointestinal illness for 24 hours may return to daycare.
Toddlers and Younger Children
It is the job of a young child to develop a strong immune system by catching colds and stomach ailments from their friends, and most kids in preschool or elementary school settings take this job seriously. Sniffles, earaches, mild cough and stomach pain most often do not require that you take the day off or take your child to the doctor, however. More serious concerns about this age group might include:
- Fever over 100.4 degrees
- Thick or yellowish discharge from the eye
- Sore throat with fever
- More than 2 episodes of vomiting or diarrhea
- Rash accompanied by a fever
- White spots in the throat and mouth
- Unexplained pustules on the skin (possibly chicken pox)
- Severe earache or stomachache along with fever
Tweens and Teens
Older children stand to fall behind in classwork when school is missed due to illness. Fortunately, by the time most kids reach their early teens it is easier to make a diagnostic call about illness and school. High school children in particular may want to go to school when they are sick, but the risk of contagion must be considered. You may be able to treat a common cold with over-the-counter medication; however, even if your child claims to feel better he may still be contagious. Fever within 24 hours, excessive gastrointestinal distress and particularly nasty coughs are all good reasons to keep your teen home.
For any age child, there are danger signals that all parents should heed and immediately contact their doctor for direction. Call your physician if your child has any of the following symptoms:
- Loss of consciousness
- Painful urination
- Blurred vision or walking difficulty
- Vomiting for more than 12 hours
- Severe headache
- Blood in stool or vomit
- Severe abdominal pain for more than 2 hours
- Difficulty breathing
For all children, most minor injuries and illnesses do not require a doctor’s supervision. Most often, over-the-counter first aid or cold and flu products can be used to treat your child at home, along with plenty of rest and water.