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When your child is sick, it is natural to worry – especially when you are a first time parent. It is sometimes difficult to know when your child is seriously ill, when is the right time to call the doctor, and what are the best ways to make sure your child recovers as quickly and as comfortably as possible.
Remember, your child’s doctor is always happy to answer your questions, and would rather have you call and ask questions, than wonder and worry.
Below are some helpful tips to help you navigate your child’s illnesses as you care for them at home.
If your baby is less than 3 months of age, it’s particularly important to call their doctor immediately or go to the emergency room for a temperature higher than 100.4° F, excessive fussiness, excessive sleepiness, refusal to eat, and/or coughing.
When your child is sick, he or she may have a fever. A fever is a body temperature that is higher than normal. A fever is usually a sign that the body is fighting an illness or infection. Fevers are generally harmless. In fact, they can be considered a good sign that your child’s immune system is working and the body is trying to heal itself. Have a thermometer handy at home, so that you can take your child’s temperature when they are sick. While the average normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C), a normal temperature range is between 97.5°F (36.4°C) and 99.5°F (37.5°C). Most pediatricians consider a temperature above 100.4°F (38°C) as a sign of a fever.
Observing other symptoms and behavior can also help you decide the seriousness of your child’s illness.
If all of the signs in all of the areas are “reassuring,” feel comforted that for the time being, your child is not seriously ill. However, remember that your child’s condition can change, so you will need to recheck signs on a regular basis. If your child has any “worrisome” signs, it is a good idea to report these to your doctor’s office and ask for advice. When “serious-illness-likely” signs are present, it is important that you make an appointment for your child to be seen promptly.
When you make the call to your doctor, give details such as when your child became ill, your child’s symptoms, and any signs that are “worrisome” or “serious illness is likely”, and any medications you have given. Do not be afraid to ask questions or have information repeated.
Unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, or abnormal color (very pale or blue), are obvious signs of a serious illness – call 911 if you ever observe these symptoms.
In the first 3-4 years of life, children catch an average of six to eight colds a year. The average cold can last three weeks. If you add up the time that your child is catching a cold, sick with a cold, and getting over a cold, almost half of the year is a “cold season”!
Until a child is old enough to blow his or her own nose, clearing the mucus with a suction bulb can make your child more comfortable. The use of over the counter saline nose drops (1-2 drops in each nostril) makes the mucus easier to remove. Saline nose drops can be purchased over the counter (without a doctor’s prescription).
Placing a cool-mist humidifier (vaporizer) in your child's room can help keep your child more comfortable. Be sure to clean and dry the humidifier thoroughly each day to prevent bacterial or mold contamination. Hot-water vaporizers are not recommended since they can cause serious burns.
For children over the age of one year, consider using honey to relieve a cough:
If honey is given at bedtime, make sure your child's teeth are brushed afterward.
Do not use over-the-counter (OTC) medicines without first checking with your doctor. Many commonly available OTC medicines for can cause harmful side effects in children. Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines should not be given to infants and children under 6 years of age because of the risk of life-threatening side effects. Many OTC cold medicines already have acetaminophen (Tylenol or generic) in them. Giving one of these medicines along with acetaminophen or (Tylenol or generic), would give your child a double dose.
Healthy habits can help you and your child avoid illness and the spread of infection.