5 Symptoms Moms Can Relax About (and 4 to Never Ignore)
1. Fever: A temperature is really just a sign that your child's body is fighting an infection, which does not necessarily require a run to the doctor. "Some parents have heard that their child will have brain damage with a 103- or 104-degree fever, but a high fever won't cause harm to the child," says Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., a pediatrician in West Lake Village, CA. In fact, it's not unusual for young kids to have a temperature of up to 104 for four or five days.You can ease your child's discomfort and bring down his temperature by giving him acetaminophen or ibuprofen (for kids older than 6 months); contrary to popular belief, lowering a fever will not prolong the illness.
The exception is a fever in newborns under 2 months of age, which could signal a serious infection. "If that happens, parents should call their pediatrician no matter what time of day or night," says Ellen Putter, M.D., a pediatrician in New York City. Older kids should see a doctor if their fever is accompanied by listlessness or inconsolable irritability, or if their temperature spikes to 105 degrees.
2. Cough: Like the common cold, most coughs are caused by a viral infection, which must run its course and which no medication will cure. Yet "parents ask for antibiotics for a cough because they think it'll help or they're at their wit's end and want to try anything," says Altmann. The best remedy for this kind of cough is to make sure your child drinks lots of fluids and gets plenty of rest, then wait for the cough to resolve itself.
A cough that lasts for more than two weeks, continuously disrupts your child's sleep or causes her to take short, rapid breaths or have trouble catching her breath could signal an allergy, pneumonia, bronchitis or asthma and should be checked out by a doctor, says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, TX, and coauthor of Baby 411. If the cough sounds like high-pitched barking and your child's breathing is labored, it may be croup, which occurs when the windpipe is inflamed. Ten minutes in a steamy bathroom should relieve the swelling, but if your child continues to have difficulty breathing, you'll need to go to the ER so she can be treated with steroids to relax the airway.
3. Rash: When red blotches appear on your child's skin, it's usually due to one of four causes, none of which are serious: a viral infection (which will most often resolve itself), a reaction to a skin irritant such as soap or poison ivy (known as contact dermatitis), a reaction to an allergen such as perfume or dry skin (all of which can be diagnosed as eczema). Contact dermatitis looks like a patch or streak of blisters where the skin rubbed against the allergen, while eczema looks like dry, red, rough patches of skin, usually appearing on the elbows and knees. Moisturizing the area and skipping soap during baths will help alleviate the itchiness from contact dermatitis and eczema, but you'll also need to uncover the irritant or allergen. "The distribution of the rash can be a clue," says Brown. "Dots that match up to where the snaps on a pair of pajamas fall might indicate sensitivity to the metal." Rashes that occur when your child plays with a person who's wearing perfume could be due to the fragrance. If you can't zero in on the allergen and the rash has gone on for more than a week, consult your pediatrician.
Wait-and-See Symptoms, continued
4. Headaches: "When kids complain of headaches, parents often think, Oh, my God, my child has meningitis," says Putter. "But headaches are very common they even happen in toddlers." You can give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve the pain, but the best way to get rid of headaches in the long run is to figure out what the trigger is and eliminate it. The usual culprits, says Putter, are lack of sleep, vision problems, allergies or simply hunger. If your child gets headaches first thing in the morning for several days in a row and has blurred vision or vomiting, however, consult your pediatrician. This combination of symptoms could indicate a tumor in the brain.
5. Unusual bowel movements: The frequency and makeup of poop vary greatly depending on a child's age and diet. Breast-fed newborns generally poop more often than formula-fed babies; older kids can poop from twice a day to once every three days. And it's all fine. "Nonetheless, parents frequently fret that their kids aren't pooping enough, are pooping too often or that the color is strange," says Altmann. But even poop that's out of the ordinary rarely indicates an illness, unless there's blood in it which could mean an intestinal infection. If your child goes four days without pooping, he's probably constipated, in which case a diet of more fruits, veggies, water, prune juice and whole grains should fix him right up.
1. Weight loss: Unless your child is overweight and trying to slim down to get healthier, infants and children should never lose weight. "A growing kid should be gaining weight every month," says Vincent Iannelli, M.D., a pediatrician in Dallas. "It's okay for your child to lose a pound or two for a day or two when he's sick, but it's not normal if your child continues to lose weight over several weeks." Significant weight loss which Iannelli defines as 5 percent of body weight could be an indication of diabetes or cancer. As a general rule, kids should gain about two pounds a month for the first three months, a pound a month until they're 12 months old, half a pound to three quarters of a pound a month to age 2 and then four pounds a year until puberty.
2. Thirst and frequent urination: It makes sense that if a child drinks a lot, he'll pee a lot. But if your child is also losing weight quickly or shedding pounds despite regular eating habits, she could have diabetes, an increasingly common endocrine disorder in kids. Frequent urination could also be a sign of a urinary tract infection, which must be treated with antibiotics.
3. Sleep disturbances: Yes, kids will have good nights and bad nights sleeping. A child who never seems to get restful sleep, and breathes through her mouth most of the night, however, may have sleep apnea. The condition, which occurs when enlarged tonsil tissue or adenoids (germ-fighting tissues in the back of the throat) obstruct your child's airway, isn't dangerous, but it can make your child miserable since she could be prone to frequent sinus infections and runny nose, not to mention crankiness and low energy due to the lack of sleep, says Brown. Depending on how severe your child's case is, she may need the enlarged tissue to be surgically removed so she can sleep and function better.
4. Big belly: It's easy to dismiss a protruding tummy as the result of a big meal or gas. But a large stomach could indicate an intolerance of gluten, which will require that your child abstain from gluten-rich foods such as wheat, rye and barley. A distended belly could even be a sign ofleukemia or cancers of the abdominal cavity. If your child has a serious illness, the shape of his tummy will resemble that of a pregnant woman's jutting out lower down and his belly will remain big for three or four days. Another tip-off: "If you press on your child's protruding belly while he's lying down and it feels firm, it might be a problem," says Brown. Of course, "might" is the operative word here. Follow your instincts: Anytime you're unsure and anxious about your child's symptoms whether it's a big belly or a nagging cough call your pediatrician.
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