Caring for Your Sick Child

When your child gets sick with a viral infection, such as cold, flu or one of the many respiratory viruses, you can do several things to ease her symptoms and prevent serious complications.

The first step for parents is knowledge. Most of us aren't trained in medical care; we rely on what we remember from our own childhood and from advice from our doctor, family, and friends. Since most viral infections don't require a doctor visit, we're often on our own when treating our child.

A quick search for help online can arm us with the knowledge we need to care for a sick child.

The first important bits of information we need are how to distinguish colds from flu and when to take the child to the doctor. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, "Colds and flu are both highly contagious and, in the initial stages, a bad cold and a mild case of the flu might seem alike. However, flu is a serious illness that can have life-threatening complications, unlike colds." The flu usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness/weakness (can be extreme)
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Body or muscle aches
  • Diarrhea and vomiting also can occur, but are more common in children.

About Women's Health has a helpful table for distinguishing colds from flu. Pediatrician Vincent Iannelli advices parents on when to call the doctor, and About Parenting Babies gives suggestions for information you need when calling your doctor.

Remember, if you suspect that your child has the flu, you must seek treatment within the first 48 hours in order to receive treatment with antiviral medications such as Tamiflu.

Finally, the CDC lists some emergency warning signs in children that need urgent medical attention:

  • High or prolonged fever
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Changes in mental status, such as not waking up or not interacting; being so irritable that the child does not want to be held; or seizures
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions (for example, heart or lung disease, diabetes)

Next > Caring for Your Sick Child

When your child gets sick with a viral infection, such as cold, flu or one of the many respiratory viruses, you can do several things to ease her symptoms and prevent serious complications.

The first step for parents is knowledge. Most of us aren't trained in medical care; we rely on what we remember from our own childhood and from advice from our doctor, family, and friends. Since most viral infections don't require a doctor visit, we're often on our own when treating our child. A quick search for help online can arm us with the knowledge we need to care for a sick child.

The first important bits of information we need are how to distinguish colds from flu and when to take the child to the doctor. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, "Colds and flu are both highly contagious and, in the initial stages, a bad cold and a mild case of the flu might seem alike. However, flu is a serious illness that can have life-threatening complications, unlike colds." The flu usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness/weakness (can be extreme)
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Body or muscle aches
  • Diarrhea and vomiting also can occur, but are more common in children.

About Women's Health has a helpful table for distinguishing colds from flu. Pediatrician Vincent Iannelli advices parents on when to call the doctor, and About Parenting Babies gives suggestions for information you need when calling your doctor. Remember, if you suspect that your child has the flu, you must seek treatment within the first 48 hours in order to receive treatment with antiviral medications such as Tamiflu.

Finally, the CDC lists some emergency warning signs in children that need urgent medical attention:

  • High or prolonged fever
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Changes in mental status, such as not waking up or not interacting; being so irritable that the child does not want to be held; or seizures
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions (for example, heart or lung disease, diabetes)

Next > Caring for Your Sick Child

I found lots of advice from About Pediatrics that helped me care for my child while she was sick. I've also learned from my own doctor, mom, and other parents some practical ways to ease my child's suffering when she's sick.

Fever

High fever is common in children and very scary for parents. Loose cotton clothes, acetaminophen, and complete rest are my first actions when fever gets high. I have used the tactic of alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen every two hours when advised by my physician for a seriously high fever.

About Pediatrics gives more advice for coping with fever.

Vomiting

A frequent dilemma with the child's high fever is vomiting that prevents the fever reducing medication from doing its job. Acetaminophen suppositories can be kept in the refrigerator for just such emergencies. Bring the fever down with a suppository and the vomiting often eases. Occasionally doctors will prescribe a Phenergan suppository for very serious vomiting in a child.

Dehydration

Fluids are the second recommendation you always hear for viral infections. They are important for easing upper respiratory symptoms as well as for critical rehydration during diarrhea and vomiting. Keep Pedialyte on hand for times when your child experiences diarrhea and vomiting with fever. To ease congestion and coughing, carefully use a big steamy pot of water or turn on all of the hot water in a small bathroom. Frozen juice feels great on a sore throat; and, water and ice should be at hand for continuous drinking.

When noses get dry and sore, a bit of pure petroleum jelly will protect them. About Pediatrics also suggests using saline nose sprays and cool mist humidifiers.

I always say that the best way to survive a virus is to sleep through it. Make your child comfortable and let him sleep as much as possible.

Keep his door open and the house quiet. You'll want to check on him to make sure the sheets are dry and to gauge his fever and breathing. Try the Breathe Right strips to keep nasal passages open a bit; place a cleaned, cool mist humidifier nearby, and a glass of water for when he awakens.

Simple foods are of course the best when your child is beginning to recover. My kids say they must have old fashioned canned chicken noodle soup and crackers when they are sick. Warm honey, lemon, and water will ease a sore throat. In her article on Cold Remedies that Work Prevention's Julie A. Evans suggests steeping cinnamon in water and then adding the honey and lemon.

For more information on caring for your sick child, visit About Pediatrics' Dr. Vincent Iannelli. Take care!

I found lots of advice from About Pediatrics that helped me care for my child while she was sick. I've also learned from my own doctor, mom, and other parents some practical ways to ease my child's suffering when she's sick.

Fever

High fever is common in children and very scary for parents. Loose cotton clothes, acetaminophen, and complete rest are my first actions when fever gets high. I have used the tactic of alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen every two hours when advised by my physician for a seriously high fever. About Pediatrics gives more advice for coping with fever.

Vomiting

A frequent dilemma with the child's high fever is vomiting that prevents the fever reducing medication from doing its job. Acetaminophen suppositories can be kept in the refrigerator for just such emergencies. Bring the fever down with a suppository and the vomiting often eases. Occasionally doctors will prescribe a Phenergan suppository for very serious vomiting in a child.

Dehydration

Fluids are the second recommendation you always hear for viral infections. They are important for easing upper respiratory symptoms as well as for critical rehydration during diarrhea and vomiting. Keep Pedialyte on hand for times when your child experiences diarrhea and vomiting with fever. To ease congestion and coughing, carefully use a big steamy pot of water or turn on all of the hot water in a small bathroom. Frozen juice feels great on a sore throat; and, water and ice should be at hand for continuous drinking. When noses get dry and sore, a bit of pure petroleum jelly will protect them. About Pediatrics also suggests using saline nose sprays and cool mist humidifiers.

I always say that the best way to survive a virus is to sleep through it. Make your child comfortable and let him sleep as much as possible. Keep his door open and the house quiet. You'll want to check on him to make sure the sheets are dry and to gauge his fever and breathing. Try the Breathe Right strips to keep nasal passages open a bit; place a cleaned, cool mist humidifier nearby, and a glass of water for when he awakens.

Simple foods are of course the best when your child is beginning to recover. My kids say they must have old fashioned canned chicken noodle soup and crackers when they are sick. Warm honey, lemon, and water will ease a sore throat. In her article on Cold Remedies that Work Prevention's Julie A. Evans suggests steeping cinnamon in water and then adding the honey and lemon.

For more information on caring for your sick child, visit About Pediatrics' Dr. Vincent Iannelli. Take care!

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