To Call the Doctor or Not- Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore!

I always get asked, “Does being a pediatrician make you worry more or less about your children?” To be honest with you, I think it is a little bit of both. I am more comfortable dealing with a viral illness and minor bumps and bruises, but my knowledge of different diseases and serious illness always makes me worry about the worst-case when it comes to childhood emergencies.

I have the luxury of knowing what needs immediate attention, what can be treated with Motrin or Tylenol, or what things can wait until the next day to see if there is an improvement.

But not everyone does!

The fear of the unknown brings tons of parents to the ER daily. It is hard to know when your little one’s temperature is considered dangerous, what type of belly pain is serious, and when it is appropriate to call your doctor at 3 am. So today I want to answer some common questions parents have regarding childhood emergencies and when to go to the emergency room or wait to seek consultation with your pediatrician.

Common Childhood Emergencies and Symptoms

Today we will discuss some of the common symptoms of more serious illnesses. Unfortunately, we can’t possibly cover everything here. I have never told a parent it was a mistake to bring their child in to be evaluated. The reality is once you become a parent, you develop a new instinct. You KNOW your child. And you know if something isn’t quite right. If your instinct tells you something is off, you should immediately have your child evaluated.

If the doctor says your child is okay but you still feel there is something very wrong, have them re-evaluated. As parents, we are our children’s only voice! It is important to be proactive and even aggressive when it comes to your child’s well-being and healthcare needs. So let’s get started!

1. Fever in a Newborn

It is extremely important to understand that illness and fever in the first 3 months of life can be very dangerous. A fever for a 1-month-old is very different than a fever for a 2-year-old. If your newborn feels warm or there is a change in their feeding or sleeping pattern, it is important to take their temperature immediately. The most accurate way to take a temperature is by using a rectal thermometer.

Anything above 100.4 degrees is a fever and needs immediate attention. You should contact your pediatrician and take your baby to them or head straight to the nearest emergency room.

2. Fever That Does Not Respond to Medication or Lasts a Long Time

We have many parents who come to the ER because they have treated their child’s fever with medications and the fever is not resolving. It is extremely important that you know the right dosing of Tylenol and Motrin. If you are having trouble controlling the fever, call your pediatrician to make sure the dose is correct. If you are giving the appropriate dose and the temperature won’t budge, it is important to have your child evaluated.

A fever from a cold or virus can last 5-to-7 days. However, if fever persists longer, it warrants a trip to the doctor’s office to determine why the fever isn’t resolving.

3. Severe Headache ”“ With or Without Fever

There are many things that can cause a headache, some less serious than others. If your child is experiencing an extremely painful headache that isn’t responding to the appropriate dose of pain reducer, it is important to go to the emergency room and have your child evaluated, especially if that headache is accompanied by fever, vomiting, or most importantly neck pain. These could be signs of meningitis.

In addition, if your child has experienced a head injury and is complaining of a headache or is vomiting, immediately take them to the closest ER.

4. High Fever with Drooling and Inability to Swallow

All children have a difficult time swallowing while fighting a sore throat. However, if your child has a change in their voice, inability to swallow their own saliva, or high fever, an immediate evaluation is warranted.

5. Difficulty Breathing

I would say that after fever, cough is the next most common complaint we see in the emergency room. When children are fighting a cold, their body’s natural defense is to cough. Cough is more concerning when coupled with high fever or difficulty breathing, which requires immediate attention. If your child is complaining of chest tightness, difficulty breathing, or you notice that they are breathing faster than usual, you should take your child to the doctor to be evaluated.

6. Sudden Belly Pain

Depending on your child’s age, sudden belly pain can be from many different things. GI bugs can cause abdominal pain associated with vomiting and diarrhea. However, if your child is complaining of persistent pain, especially if the pain is located on the right lower side, it can be a sign of appendicitis.

In addition, many underlying diseases and illnesses can present with vomiting. It is important to have your child evaluated if they are experiencing abdominal pain and vomiting. Also, decreased urination is an important sign of dehydration. If your child has excessive vomiting and diarrhea with decreased urination, dry mouth & lips, and increased sleepiness, you should call your doctor immediately.

7. Limping or Joint Pain Without a Known Trauma

Leg, arm, or joint pain doesn’t necessarily have to be due to an injury. If your child is complaining of pain in their joints or extremities and there is no known injury, seek medical attention, especially if your child also has a fever.

Final Thoughts on Childhood Emergencies and Their Symptoms

If you have any doubt or worry about your child’s health, call your doctor for an evaluation. If your child has any of these symptoms, do not wait to seek treatment! Childhood emergencies can be terrifying, but calling an ambulance or making a trip to the ER or urgent care are never bad options. Always follow your parenting instincts!

~Dr. Katie

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