There may be symptoms and ailments you’ve seen quite a few times in your child already like a runny nose or a minor stomach ache. These usually don’t call for a trip to the emergency room or a frantic call to a pedia. But there are, however, symptoms that should never be ignored as they may be signs of a serious problem. Here are some of them:
1. Severe headache
How can you tell when your child’s headache is serious? Dr. Ari bBrown, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics told WebMD, “Minor headaches go away with over-the-counter pain relievers and/or rest. Major headaches do not.” A severe headache can be disabling and last for a long time. Your child won’t be able to eat, play or even read a book or watch TV because of the pain, pediatrician Dr. Barton Schmitt also toldWebMD.
When accompanied by blurred vision, confusion or difficulty walking, your child’s headache may need to be evaluated by an emergency room doctor as soon as possible. Plus, look out for vomiting, fever, a stiff neck and rashes as these could indicate serious conditions like meningitis which is considered a medical emergency.
2. Lasting stomach pain
Most kids have or will experience minor stomach aches from time to time, says MedlinePlus. They’re usually caused by constipation, gas or a stomach virus (gastroenteritis) and most of the time they’re nothing serious. However, stomach or abdominal pain can also be a sign of serious problems like appendicitis, stomach ulcer or hernia.
Pain caused by appendicitis, which is a medical emergency, starts around the belly button and moves to the lower right side. Tell-tale signs of it include excruciating pain when you ask your child to jump up and down, and an increase in the severity of pain over time. It may also be accompanied by diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
Seek medical help right away if the pain is sudden and sharp, and comes and goes repeatedly as this may be a sign of intussusception, a serious intestinal disorder. “Call your doctor if your child only has severe pain,” pediatrician Dr. Alanna Levine told Parents. “If there’s crampiness plus signs in the stool, head straight to the hospital.” Other signs of a serious problem include blood in stool or vomit, a rigid or hard belly and an extreme difficulty in passing stool, according to MedlinePlus.
3. Breathing problems
A spirited game of tag can cause your child (and you if you’re part of the game) to sit down for a bit to take in some air but noisy, troubled breathing can be more serious. “Breathing problems are more worrisome when the sounds come from the chest and lungs, not the nose,” pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu . Trouble breathing may be a sign of an allergic reaction, an asthma attack, choking, pneumonia, whooping cough or croup.
Listen for a whistling, grunting or panting sound, and watch out for discoloration or blueness around the mouth. You can also take your child’s respiratory rate to check if he’s breathing is normal. Do this by counting the number of times your child’s chest rises in a minute, says WebMD. For kids 1 to 5 years old, a normal resting breathing rate falls between 20 to 30 breaths per minute. For 4 to 12 year olds, it’s 12 to 30 breaths per minute.
Perez says that first aid for children experiencing trouble breathing is to give supplemental oxygen. While that isn’t available yet, parents can provide help with breathing exercises, he adds.
4. Persistent or high fever
“Most fevers in a child are not medical emergencies and can wait until the office opens to see a doctor,” says Dr. Brown. Fevers are a sign that the body is defending itself against an infection so they’re not necessarily a bad thing, according to Mayo Clinic. If your child has a cold for example, a fever is a sign that his immune system is working to fight the disease. High fevers, however, can indicate a serious infection or problem.
Dr. Brown recommends bringing your child to the doctor if her fever is 40 °C or higher and if she’s had a fever consistently for four or more days in a row. Call the doctor if the fever is accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, severe stomach ache, and severe headache. Watch out for uncharacteristic behavior as well. You know your child best so you know when her fever is causing her to be irritable and listless. Notice if she’s not making eye contact with you or isn’t responding to your voice.
If your child is below 2 years old, she should be seen by a doctor within 48 hours of a high fever, says WebMD.
5. Severe vomiting and diarrhea
Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, can cause vomiting and diarrhea. If your child has it, watch out for signs of dehydration. Vomiting a few times in a day may not lead to dehydration but it can happen with explosive diarrhea that happens once an hour every hour. And, according to Mayo Clinic, infants and children are the most vulnerable. Dehydration can cause serious complications including low blood volume shock, which can be life-threatening.
See a doctor if your child’s stomach flu is getting worse or it has caused her to have trouble urinating. “If they’re losing it below and not able to retain the ideal fluid from above, they may need some IV fluids or prescription medication to stop the vomiting,” says Dr. Schmitt.