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When to Call the Doctor for Childhood Illnesses

Many childhood illnesses, including colds and stomachaches, are mild enough to be treated at home. But what about when the symptoms are more severe? When should you call the doctor?

Treat at home

In most cases, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can treat your children yourself if they have the following conditions:

  • Cold or flu

  • Mild fever

  • Stomachache

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Minor cuts and scrapes

  • Poison ivy or oak

If you have questions regarding the best treatment or medicine to give, call your health care provider.

See the doctor

Make an appointment with your health care provider if your child has the following more serious symptoms or conditions:

  • Earache. A health care provider should evaluate ear pain or discharge.

  • Strep throat. If your child has any indications of strep—a very sore throat, high fever, pus on tonsils, or tender lymph nodes—take the child for a throat culture.

  • Eye problems. A child with eye pain or a sudden change in vision should see an eye doctor.

  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea. Although mild or infrequent diarrhea and vomiting can be treated at home, there’s a danger of dehydration if your child has been repeatedly vomiting or has very loose and frequent bowel movements. Call or see your provider for advice.

  • Lingering symptoms that last for more than two or three days. A child who has a headache, stomachache, mild fever, or another symptom that doesn’t respond to home care after several days should be seen by a health care provider.

  • High fever. Take your child to your health care provider if he or she is less than 3 months old and has a rectal temperature of 100.2 degrees or higher; is between 3 and 6 months old and has a rectal or armpit temperature of 101 degrees or higher; or is older than 6 months and has a rectal, armpit, or oral temperature of 103 degrees or higher.

  • Unusual symptoms. Call the health care provider if your child shows no other symptoms but is lethargic, hyperactive, or clumsy. Such subtle behavioral symptoms can be signs of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, or other conditions that require medical care.

If you have any doubts about what steps to take or where your child should be treated, call your health care provider for advice.