Sick Kid? When You Do (and Don’t) Need to Call the Doctor

Cheryl Lock
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The Best Way to Get Rid of Coughs, Aches and Pains From HomeWhen our kids get sick, there tend to be two thoughts that first cross our mind:

  1. How serious is this? Should I play “doctor” on my own and avoid an actual doctor’s visit, 45 wasted minutes in the waiting room and medical bills and paperwork?
  2. Why didn’t I stop at the drugstore on the way home last night? I knew we were out of Tylenol.

In the past we’ve talked about the best ways to keep your child from getting sick in the first place and how to tell if she’s sick enough to stay home. While both of those things are helpful, the question still remains—when your kid is “kind of” sick (you know, the kind that doesn’t require a doctor visit), what’s the best way to take care of her?

To answer that question, we talked with Vandana Bhide, M.D., board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Integrative and Holistic Medicine, asking her about the most common kid complaints, and whether they’re the types of things that require you to pick up the phone … or just play doctor from home.

How Do You Doctor Your Kid?

What remedies have you tried in the past to help your sick kid from home?
DISCUSS

Every case is unique, but try these on for size before schlepping a sick kid to the doctor and shelling out for a co-pay:

The Pain: Headache
The “Cure”: Headaches are caused by many different things, including tension, tiredness or dehydration. “The go-to meds for headaches are typically ibuprofen or acetaminophen, which are both fine to try,” says Dr. Bhide. “Always try ibuprofen with food, and if the child still has a headache in six to 12 hours, follow up with a dose of acetaminophen.” Never give aspirin to a child of any age, even teenagers. “I tell my patients to avoid it because of the risk of Reye Syndrome,” says Dr. Bhide. Reye Syndrome is a serious brain disorder that has been associated with using aspirin when a patient has fevers.
See a Doctor When: your child appears sick in ways other than just the headache (like fever, chills). If he’s complaining of neck pain, take him to the doctor to rule out meningitis.

The Pain: Runny nose
The “Cure”: In the past, the common recommendation for runny noses was to use over-the-counter cold medications, but the American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends against that. “These drugs have not been shown to decrease the duration or severity of a cold, and studies have shown that parents frequently end up giving the wrong dose,” says Dr. Bhide. “If the runny nose is accompanied with other cold symptoms, like headache or low-grade fever, you can try acetaminophen, but otherwise it’s best to stay away from all cold and cough medicines.” She suggests trying saline rinses, which you can either buy or make on your own using 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 cup of warm water (not hot … never microwave the water). Nasal irrigation works when you pour saline solution into one nostril and allow it to flow through the other, washing out mucus and allergens, but it might take your kid a little getting used to. For a full video on the process, click here.
See a Doctor When: Generally speaking, runny noses tend to be benign nuisances, but especially in children under six months, whose immune systems aren’t fully developed yet, you’ll want to be alert. If at any time a runny nose is accompanied with a fever over 100.4, bring your child to the doctor to make sure something more serious isn’t at play.

The Pain: Sore throat
The “Cure”: Even though over-the-counter cold meds are a no-no for kids, honey can be a potent sore throat soother for kids over 12 months. Try giving your child 1/2 to 1 teaspoon every 4-6 hours, or served in tea for older kids. Of course, there’s always the old standby of gargling with warm salt water. “These things won’t shorten the duration of the illness, but they will help your child feel better,” says Dr. Bhide. “A humidifier also helps, especially if you run it at night.”
See a Doctor When: Sore throat associated with high fever may be due to strep throat. If the sore throat does not resolve itself within 48 hours, or if spots are visible on the back of your child’s throat, take your kid to the doctor.

The Pain: Stomachache
The “Cure”: This is a tricky one. “As long as the stomach pain is mild, I wouldn’t actually treat it with anything,” says Dr. Bhide. “Just make sure that the child stays hydrated and keeps drinking clear liquids, like rehydration solutions. Pedialyte is a good one.” If possible, try to avoid carbonated drinks like ginger ale, which can actually exacerbate stomach issues.
See a Doctor When: If your child can’t keep any liquids down or is having pains like those associated with appendicitis (acute pains that start near the belly button and then go to the right lower belly and stay in that region), take her to see a doctor immediately.

The Pain: Diarrhea
The “Cure”: Studies have shown that kids suffering from viral gastroenteritis (or diarrhea) who take probiotics can reduce the duration by one day. “That might not seem like a heck of a lot of time, but trust me, when you’re suffering, it is!” says Dr. Bhide. Probiotics are available in powder form for younger kids, which you can sprinkle on food or mix in liquids, or as tablets for older kids. Don’t use Imodium, or other over-the-counter medications, warns Dr. Bhide, because you don’t want to mask or stop the symptoms unless a doctor tells you to. Doing so can actually prolong the illness in the long run.
See a Doctor When: If your child has dry lips or mouth, doughy skin, lack of tears or hasn’t urinated in eight hours, it’s time to see a doctor because she could be dehydrated.

The Pain: Influenza or Upper Respiratory Infection symptoms
The “Cure”: It can be hard to detect the flu, or an upper respiratory infection, but if your child has a high fever and cough without a runny nose or sore throat, it’s reasonable to assume that he could have the flu, and there isn’t a way to take care of the flu, or an upper respiratory infection, without visiting the doctor.
See a Doctor When: Any time your child has a high fever and cough without the surrounding “cold” symptoms, like runny nose or sore throat, you should take him in to be tested.

As is the case with all of our health content, the above advice is meant to be a suggestion, and not to replace your common sense and intuition. If you feel your child needs to see a doctor, absolutely take her in to see one.

Dr. Bhide covers kids’ health more in depth on her site, Vitamin Vee.

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