Common Childhood Illnesses: When to Call the Doctor

Bringing home baby is one of the most exciting moments in new parents' lives. It can also be a little intimidating when the realization hits that responsibility for their baby's health and wellbeing is now in their hands. All babies get sick now and again, but that's little comfort to nervous and inexperienced parents. Knowing the facts about common childhood illnesses and when it's time to see a doctor can reassure uncertain moms and dads.

Pediatricians vaccinate children against the most virulent childhood illnesses; measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus are included in routine immunizations. New parents need to be concerned about the more common viruses and bacteria that cause illness in children.

• The common cold virus affects children the same way it affects adults; there is no cure, only medications to help relieve the symptoms. A child with a low fever and a mild runny nose probably just needs extra rest and a dose of acetaminophen. However, parents should watch for signs of wheezing, a sharp bark-like cough, high fever or rash. These could be signs of more dangerous conditions like croup and pneumonia, which require prompt medical attention.

• Conjunctivitis, commonly called pinkeye, is a very common condition; virtually every young child will be affected with it once in the first five years. One or both eyes itch, redden and may swell a bit. Viral pinkeye is not serious and the symptoms usually resolve in about a week with no treatment. Parents should seek medical attention if there is crusting or thick drainage: These may indicate bacterial pinkeye and need a course of antibiotics.

• Ear infections are also very common and parents should watch out for these telltale signs that their child's fussiness might be an ear infection requiring a doctor's care: Fever, pawing or tugging at one or both ears, and lack of interest in eating. Ear infections are very painful for children, and if they aren't treated promptly can lead to hearing damage.

• Diarrhea in infants and children happens more often than in adults. An occasional loose stool, or even three or four in a day, is usually not a problem and can be related to a mild virus, too much fruit or fruit juice or a food allergy. If the child is acting fine otherwise, most likely all that is needed is to make sure the child is getting enough to drink to avoid dehydration. Dehydration can happen very rapidly in babies younger than six months, so it's smart to contact the doctor if a young infant has diarrhea. In an older child, if there is also fever, lethargy or stomach cramps, or mucus or blood in the stool, it's time to call the doctor.

These are some childhood illnesses most new parents face. Being aware of these symptoms and their possible complications is no replacement for a doctor's advice; parents should always call the pediatrician if the child's symptoms are concerning them.



Please be aware that the articles on this site are written by mothers who are discussing their own experiences and their own opinions. They do not, and are not meant to, represent professional advice and should be read with that point firmly in mind. Our children’s welfare is paramount; if you are ever in the slightest doubt about any aspect of caring for a child you are urged to seek qualified, specialist advice from a professional advisor.

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