When Should I Bring My Child to the Doctor?

One of the questions that I receive constantly is: “When should I worry about my child and bring them in to see the doctor?”

As a parent, you will always know your child better than anyone. A parent will be the first to feel if something is seriously wrong with their child. Parental instinct is a powerful tool. If you are a worrier by nature, you might take that into consideration. But for the most part, as a parent your instinct about your child will tell you when something is amiss.

The majority of illnesses that children get are viruses and, contrary to popular opinion, antibiotics do not cure a viral illness. However, a virus that hangs around too long is a breeding ground for an infection, and infections warrant a trip to the doctor and, usually, an antibiotic.  So if your child has been coughing for five days, you might take her to see your pediatrician.

Fever is usually the first sign of illness in a child. If the fever is under control at home with Tylenol or Motrin, there is usually no need to rush the child in to the physician’s office. It being under control is yet another sign your child has a virus.  But if the fever goes higher than 102, or if the parent is unable to control the fever and the child starts to appear lethargic, absolutely bring that child in to see their pediatrician.

Pain is the body’s way of signaling us that something is wrong.  Whether it is pain in the tummy, the head, the ears, the chest, the throat, or anywhere else, your child’s pain is a clear message that the body is not coping with something. If pain persists more than a few hours, or if it increases, give your doctor a call.

Dehydration is dangerous.  As parents, we expect our children to get the occasional stomach bug with vomiting and diarrhea, but  these symptoms accompanied by pain can indicate something more is wrong. And these symptoms for more than a day, even without pain, can lead to dehydration.  So, prolonged symptoms or symptoms with pain are yet another reason to call your doctor.

Unusual behavior such as lethargy, sadness, loss of appetite, exhaustion, reluctance to interact can be a sign of either physical or emotional problems for your child.  Talk with them to ascertain the reason for their change in behavior, and if there is no rationale, bring your child to your doctor.

In short, just use common sense and your gut instinct. If you are worried about your child–bring them in. If you are not worried–you don’t usually need to rush them in to see the doctor. Just watch them carefully and if anything changes, make the call.  You and your pediatrician are a team, brought together to ensure your child’s well-being.  You are the first line of defense, your pediatrician is waiting in the wings to respond whenever he or she is called on the field.

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