A Parent’s Guide to Calling and Going to the Doctor

**By Carrie Jenner, MD**

If you’re a parent, you’re likely familiar with the woes of caring for your child when they become ill. For some, this time can be filled with a whirlwind of uncertainty and second guessing, particularly if your little one is very sick, or it’s lasted a long time. Questions start to surface like, should you wait it out or is it time to call your pediatrician?

While every situation is different, I’ve compiled the below guide that details some of the most common symptoms and issues and when it comes to your child getting sick. Here, I detail when it might be time to make an appointment or other medical intervention, so your focus can be helping your child feel better.

This guide is not meant to replace medical advice. For any concerns, please work directly with your provider.

Fever

Figuring out the best course of action when your child has a fever will depend on their age. If your baby is less than two months old and has a temperature of 100.4 F or higher, it’s imperative to head straight to the emergency room as they could have a serious infection. At the hospital, your baby will receive a full workup of tests to discover the root cause.

In older children, temperatures will vary a bit more (typically between 100-103 F), so pay attention to other factors as well, such as how your child is acting and how long their fever has been going on. For instance, if their fever is on the lower end but they’re irritable or not eating, it might be wise to give your pediatrician a ring. As a general rule of thumb, fevers tend to run for three days. If your child’s fever lasts longer than this, your pediatrician will be able to help you get to the bottom of it.

Coughing and Sneezing

Coughing and sneezing can be associated with upper respiratory infections such as colds, which children are highly prone to catching. Fortunately, the best thing to do here is to let the cold run its course – which can be up to 10 days for viral infections. As mentioned earlier, take your child in if a fever lasts more than three days.

If your child’s nasal discharge starts to thicken and turn green or yellow, this isn’t quite cause for concern as the cells in their body are likely in infection-fighting mode. However, if your child is struggling to breathe at any point or is flaring their nostrils or ribs when taking a breath, enlist your pediatrician as soon as possible. Additionally, if your child has developed a bluish color around their lips or nails, they’re not getting enough oxygen and you should call 911 right away.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Generally speaking, stomach viruses typically last 2-3 days. They start with vomiting for 12-24 hours, then diarrhea develops and can last a few days. If your child is unable to hold down any form of liquid or solid for over 24 hours, call your pediatrician. Giving small amounts of clear liquids like Pedialyte frequently is the best way to keep your child hydrated during the illness.

While vomiting and diarrhea are fairly common symptoms, the main concern associated with these is dehydration. Some signs of dehydration to look out for include dark urine, sunken eyes, excess irritability, lack of tears if your child is crying or less than 3 wet diapers in 24 hours.

Rashes and Other Skin Conditions

These can be particularly puzzling as rashes come in many shapes and sizes and can be caused by a variety of things. If your child has a rash but doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, then it’s probably fine to treat it with over-the-counter skin creams. However, if the rash lingers for more than a few days and is accompanied by a fever, give your pediatrician a call as this could be a sign of a larger infection.

Other rash symptoms to make your pediatrician aware of include blistering or bubbling, oozing or bleeding, a rash in the shape of a “target” and rashes accompanied with difficulty breathing.

COVID-19

Though children of all ages can contract COVID-19, they typically do not get as sick as adults. Symptoms in children tend to be on the milder side and present in more of a cold-like fashion, including fever, sore throat, chills, muscle aches, nasal congestion or extreme fatigue. Lesser-common symptoms in children can include a new loss of taste or smell and gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea.

Of course, children with underlying conditions like obesity, asthma or diabetes may experience more severe illness than children without. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, it’s better to play it safe and call your pediatrician if you suspect your child might have COVID-19, so they can be tested promptly.

It can be arduous discerning between simply letting your child’s illness run its natural course or involving your pediatrician. If at any point you’re unsure of what to do, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution and give them a call – they’ll be more than happy to help you identify the root cause so your child can get on the mend.


Carrie Jenner, MD, is board-certified in Pediatrics and currently practices at Franciscan Medical Clinic – University Place. Dr. Jenner enjoys working with children and their parents to develop healthy lifestyles that will continue into adulthood.