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When Should You Go to the Doctor? How to Handle a Sick or Injured Child

when should you go to the doctor

Waiting room – or wait and see? It’s the dilemma faced by every parent at one time or another while attempting to comfort and console a sick child.

There are, after all, a number of factors to consider. Does the unpleasantness of the illness you’re currently coping with outweigh your potential exposure to rogue viruses from the hacking, barking crowd lurking at the doctor’s office? Will you be greeted with a receptionist eye-roll when you bring your child in to be treated for a relentless case of “the sniffles?” What color is this mucus supposed to be, anyway – and is fuchsia even an option?

All kidding aside, childhood illnesses and injuries have a way of transpiring after normal doctor’s hours – leaving a costly visit to the ER one of the only remaining options.  Is “better safe than sorry” always better? And when should you go to the doctor for a sick or injured child?

Colds and fevers come and go, particularly in the case of school-age children who, as a rule, bring home more viruses than homework. Most pediatricians agree, however, that the following list of symptoms should necessitate a visit to your family physician or the nearest medical professional.

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Difficulty swallowing (This could signify a blocked airway.)
  • Lethargy and/or unusual irritability.
  • Persistent pain in the ear, stomach, etc. Pain on the right side of stomach, specifically, can be a sign of an inflamed appendix.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea that does not cease within a day’s time, or that results in an inability to ingest enough liquid to urinate every 8 hours. (This could result in dehydration, which is an emergency situation.)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea accompanied by the presence of blood and/or headache.
  • Stiffness or pain in the neck.
  • Any known exposure to a serious illness and/or disease, such as mononucleosis.

In terms of falls and related injuries:

  • A fall that causes swelling in the body or limbs that does not subside within a day’s time.
  • Lacerations that are greater than 1 mm deep and 1 cm long or those that do not cease bleeding after pressure is applied for 15 minutes.

Fever remains a tremendous worry for most parents, and understandably so. But cause for alarm is dependent upon many things, including the symptoms accompanying the fever, the duration, and the severity. Of course, 102 and 103 degree fevers in toddlers are concerning, but do not necessarily constitute an emergency, and a temp of up to 100.2 is actually considered normal in children. That being said, the younger the child with the fever – the sooner you should take them to the doctor’s.

A quick reference for when to call the doctor:

  • Children under 3 months: 100.4°F or higher
  • 3 to 6 months: 102°F or higher.
  • Over 6 months: 103°F or higher

For older children, a temp of 103°F that lasts for more than 3 days should be evaluated.

Many fevers and coughs are caused by viruses, however, and the only prescription? Letting them run their course. Antibiotics will not help, only time.

These, of course, are guidelines. The best answer to the question, “When should you go to the doctor?” and one any physician would agree with, is when you believe there is something wrong. You know your children best – how they behave when they’re happy and how they react when they’re sad or angry – or hurting. If something doesn’t seem right, and if you’re worried – it’s time to pay the doc a visit. When it comes to our kids, “better safe than sorry” is irrelevant. There’s just “better.”

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