Few things are more worrisome to parents than a child who falls ill. Children get sick more frequently but less severely than adults. They are not yet immune to the many germs waiting for them in our environment, but their young bodies are in many ways stronger and more resilient than an adult’s. The average child will have from 5 to 8 acute illnesses per year. Fortunately most of these are harmless, mild, and will resolve by themselves without any need for specific medical treatment. The purpose of this pamphlet is to offer some strategies for dealing with symptoms at their onset, and some guidelines for deciding when to seek medical help. (download our Acute Illness Guide pdf)
In general there are certain signs you should watch for during ANY illness as indicators that it is mild or benign and does not need medical attention. These include:
- alertness & orientation
(the child is aware of what’s going on around him);
- good fluid intake
(although appetite for solids may be poor);
- no difficulty breathing
(despite any possible cough – see below);
- absence of localized pain
(e.g. earache, sore throat, tender abdomen, stiff neck, other persistent pain in a particular area);
- responsiveness to fever reduction
(not so much that the fever comes down, but that your child is feeling and acting better when it does – see here);
- prompt resolution
(symptoms start to improve within 3-4 days and are gone within 6-7 days)
Usually a child who meets all these criteria has a virus. Viruses are the most common type of germ. They infect you, but in contrast to other kinds of infection (bacterial, fungal, parasitic) they generally are not dangerous, do not respond to antibiotics, and require no specific therapy to get better.
Remember that during any illness, mild or severe, the body’s own immune system is doing much of the work towards recovery. Its role is ALWAYS more important than any medicine we might give. Therefore, you should help it by making sure your sick child is getting more rest than usual, plenty of fluids, a good diet, and is protected from anxiety or other emotional stress. These measures will ensure a return to normal as soon as possible.