June 08, 2022
If you have young children, it may feel like you’re constantly in and out of the doctor’s office with your little ones. A child’s immune system isn’t fully developed until they’re about 8 years old, so the close quarters of schools and daycares means whatever germs are out there spread quickly.
Familiarizing yourself with some of the most common childhood illnesses and their symptoms can help you determine whether a child’s illness will pass on its own or whether a doctor’s appointment is necessary.
Caused by a variety of different viruses, the common cold is easily spread by peers at school. Telltale signs of the common cold are sneezing, a runny nose, congestion, and a cough. There’s not much you can do for a common cold other than to wait it out. Don’t give a child under six over-the-counter cough or cold medicines, although you can provide children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen if needed.
The flu is different from the common cold. It causes a fever, chills and body aches, a sore throat, and tiredness. Like the common cold, it spreads easily, so a flu shot is recommended for your entire family each year. If your child has the flu, make sure they get a lot of sleep, drink lots of fluids, and take any medicines recommended by their doctor. This may include an antiviral medicine such as Tamiflu that can help prevent the worst symptoms if given early enough.
If your young one is experiencing a fever, stomach pain, and has swollen tonsils or throat pain, it might be strep. Strep throat is a bacterial infection, so your child’s pediatrician can diagnose it using a strep test and then prescribe antibiotics to treat it. Strep is extremely contagious, and is spread through talking, coughing, or sneezing. So don't send your child to school if they have strep, and be careful to minimize exposure to others in your home.
Also known as gastroenteritis, a bout of stomach flu will be identifiable due to diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Fortunately, this viral infection usually passes in a few days with plenty of rest and fluids. However, contact your child's doctor if they have a fever of 102 F or higher; seem tired or very irritable; are in a lot of discomfort or pain; have bloody diarrhea; or seem dehydrated.
The symptoms of an ear infection are hard to miss. Your child may complain of ear pain, tug at their ear, or have trouble swallowing (in addition to potentially a fever). Most doctors wait for an ear infection to clear up on its own, although they may offer pain medicine to help.
If your child has flu-like symptoms that seem worse or don’t get better, it’s worth having them evaluated for mononucleosis. Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and requires lots of rest for recovery. It's very contagious and is mostly spread through saliva, so wash dishes, utensils, cups or drinking glasses, and toothbrushes very carefully.
Eye redness, swelling, discomfort and discharge, and even itching are all symptoms of conjunctivitis. There can be many causes of conjunctivitis, but only the bacterial version has a treatment (antibiotic eye drops or ointments). Conjunctivitis can be very contagious, so make sure you and your child wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading it to others in your household.
These small bugs in children’s hair aren’t dangerous, but they’re very contagious and leave your little one with itchy, small bumps and sores on their head. A close inspection should allow you to identify small bugs in your child’s hair or eggs on individual hair shafts. Most pharmacies carry special shampoos and lotions that kill off lice.
If you’re concerned about your child’s health, you should call your doctor; especially if they have a high fever or trouble breathing. It’s no fun to have a sick child at home, but with basic home care, most should bounce back from these illnesses quickly!