5 Dangerous Children's Health Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
Understanding which symptoms indicate your child is ill and needs medical attention is essential. It allows you to get them the help they need when it’s critical and helps avoid unnecessary trips to the pediatrician or ER. Though children will experience any number of unexpected symptoms from time to time, they’re typically normal and not a reason for concern. However, it’s possible they may indicate a more serious condition. Let’s take a closer look at a few symptoms that should be on your parental radar.
Fever is not an illness itself, but it is an indication the body is trying to fight something. It can accompany a number of childhood diseases, including bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents contact their child’s doctor when:
- A newborn less than 3 months of age has a rectal temperature at or above 100.4 degrees F.
- Fever lasts longer than 24 hours in a child younger than 2 years old.
- Fever lasts longer than 3 days in a child over the age of 2 years.
- Fever lasts more than 1 or 2 days and is unaccompanied by any other symptoms (like cold and flu symptoms or vomiting/diarrhea).
- Fever rises above 104 degrees F repeatedly for a child of any age.
- The child seems unusually drowsy or is very fussy.
- The child is showing signs of dehydration.
- The child has immune system problems, such as sickle cell disease or cancer, or is taking steroids.
- The child has had a seizure.
Monitor your child’s behavior as well. For kids older than 2 months, their behavior may be a better indication of whether to seek medical attention or not. If your little one is alert, animated, and playful, has no trouble breathing, and is eating and sleeping well, then you may not need to call your doctor immediately.
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2. Lethargy or Sudden Extreme Fatigue
Having a lethargic child, in medical terms, doesn’t simply mean that a child’s activity level has decreased or that they’re not as active as usual. It means your child is difficult to wake up, and it is a medical emergency. Sudden extreme fatigue is another symptom that shouldn’t be ignored and can be indicative of many conditions, including COVID-19, malabsorption syndrome, anemia, influenza, and depression. If your child is experiencing sudden sleepiness or doesn’t seem to have their typical energy level for an extended duration of time, talk to their doctor.
3. Excessive Thirst
It’s normal for a child to feel very thirsty after hours of playing, running, and doing other activities that require plenty of hydration. Excessive thirst in children is another issue entirely. If your child seems to always have a constant unquenchable thirst or simply can’t seem to get enough to drink, talk to your pediatrician immediately. Extreme thirst can be an indication of a more serious issue, like diabetes. The American Diabetes Association reports that approximately 1.25 million children and adults in the United States live with type 1 diabetes. It’s more commonly diagnosed in children and young adults than older people. Other symptoms of type 1 diabetes include increased urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, and fatigue. If your child is exhibiting these symptoms, contact their pediatrician as soon as possible.
4. Difficulty Breathing
Difficulty breathing could be an indication of a viral upper respiratory tract infection or a chronic issue, like asthma. To check whether your child is having trouble breathing, remove their shirt while they are comfortable and distracted and observe the following:
- the number of breaths they take during a one-minute period
- whether the skin sucks in between the ribs and at the space between their collarbones when they take a breath (if it does, this indicates they’re using more muscles to breath and having difficulty)
- whether their nostrils flare in and out with every breath (if so, they’re working harder to breathe)
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 8 percent of children in the United States have asthma. Symptoms include trouble breathing when playing or exercising, a whistling sound when breathing out, shortness of breath, or trouble recovering from a respiratory infection. While there is no cure for asthma, treatment can alleviate symptoms or halt asthma attacks when they occur. If you observe that your child is having breathing issues, talk to their doctor.
5. Abdominal pain
Stomach aches are relatively common for some children, particularly as they experiment with new foods, have dietary changes, or overdo it on junk food. Abdominal pain may signal a serious issue, however, if you notice it is accompanied by more extreme distress, such as:
- severe diarrhea or vomiting
- tenderness to the touch
- pain in the lower right side that gets increasingly worse (a possible signal of appendicitis)
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Other Dangerous Symptoms in Children
Other red flag symptoms that are typically serious and demand prompt medical attention include, but are not limited to:
- Relentless pain, whether a headache, abdominal pain, or any other severe pain, particularly if it restricts their mobility and isn't alleviated by home treatments
- Head injuries, particularly if your child loses consciousness, has unusual behavior, or may have received a concussion
- Coughing up blood, vomiting blood, or having bloody diarrhea, particularly if there is also a fever
- Seizures, particularly if your child hasn’t been diagnosed with a seizure disorder, such as febrile seizures or epilepsy
- Testicular pain, which is typically a medical emergency
- Any unexplained weight loss
- Pain during urination, a symptom of a possible urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Extreme headaches, particularly if accompanied by a stiff neck, irritability, vomiting, or fever
- Serious cuts that may require stitches (i.e., a wound that does not hold together by itself after cleaning)
- A serious allergic reaction that includes vomiting, drooling (which may indicate the tongue is swollen), difficulty swallowing, or breathing
- Any animal bites that puncture the skin or any venomous bites or stings with spreading local redness and swelling or evidence of general illness
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