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A Pediatrician Says: When To See Your Doctor With A Sick Child
Have you ever wondered why children get sick so often, and adults don’t? Simple answer: Babies are born with little or no immunity against disease. Immunity is the body’s ability to defend itself against disease-causing germs such as bacteria and viruses.
Immunity develops as a child is exposed to the germs that surround us in people who are sick or who fall with an illness. Each disease produces immunity against only the particular germ or family of germs that caused the disease. Therefore, immunity develops, one disease at a time throughout childhood. It takes a healthy childhood to develop immunity against most common diseases in a community. But, when adult life is reached, protection against most diseases is in place, and adults are not as sick as children.
What we have to understand, as parents, is that diseases in children are inevitable, and, although worrying, they are really useful in providing immunity to the child. In many cases, diseases are less serious in a child than in an adult. So, my philosophy is that illnesses are to be accepted with some equanimity.
When is it worth seeing your pediatrician for an illness?
Doctors differ to some extent on this. Follow your doctor’s advice. The rules I follow with my own patients are listed below:
Fever without obvious symptoms – Probably safer to have your child examined by your doctor, instead of waiting.
Fever with one of the following warning signs — see your doctor for sure:
- Sore throat – your pediatrician will want to examine your child and test for strep germs. Strep can cause rheumatic fever – a disease of the heart and joints – if it is not diagnosed and treated.
- Rash – could indicate a more serious illness, especially if your child has a fever and has fallen.
- Stiff neck when the neck is tilted forward – could indicate meningitis (a serious infection of the spinal fluid).
- Lethargy (droopiness) that seems at all worrisome or of unexpected duration.
With or without feverI suggest a visit to your pediatrician for any of the following:
- Croup – a hoarse, hoarse, raspy, bark-like cough that indicates laryngitis in a child. Croup usually worsens at night, so call your doctor first if possible.
- Difficulty breathing, especially if the problem is accompanied by a stretch under or between the ribs, noisy throat or chest breathing, or blueness (cyanosis) of the lips or skin.
- Diseases in children under the age of 3 months can progress more quickly and show fewer signs than in an older child. Therefore, any illness in a child under three months, including a cold without fever, should be brought to the attention of your pediatrician without delay.
- Ear pain – should never be ignored. An untreated ear infection can lead to permanent hearing loss.
- Pus in the eyes – often indicates an underlying treatable disease that could spread to the ears or other parts of the body.
- Stomach pain can be caused by problems that are not too serious – an intestinal virus or even constipation – but abdominal pain can also mean a more serious illness, such as intestinal obstruction or appendicitis. So consult with your pediatrician about it.
Dr. Feinberg’s writings and views are his own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of other physicians or facilities with which he is or has been associated. Parents should always consult their own doctor for medical advice and treatment. Copyright Sheldon N. Feinberg MD FAAP.
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