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How to Determine If Your Child is Sick

During childhood, it isn't uncommon for children to get sick. Classrooms, play yards, and toys are just a few of the places where children can pick up things such as influenza, stomach flu, strep throat, pink eye, and more. Children, particularly young children, don't think about the consequences of putting items in their mouths or touching not only their mouths but their eyes or anywhere on their face with hands that may have come in contact with illness-causing bacteria. Unlike adults, their immune systems aren't as developed, making them more susceptible to the things that can make them ill. Sick children who are allowed to play and mingle with other kids can infect them by not covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough. Additionally, they are also less likely to think of washing their hands or following proper hygiene without instruction from a parent or other adult. For these reasons, kids can have a common cold as many as ten times a year.

When a child says they are sick, parents are faced with a few important decisions regarding what course of action to take. One of the first is to determine if the child is actually as sick as they say they are. While a parent should never disregard a child's claim of feeling unwell, they should be cognizant of the fact that children may fake or exaggerate feeling sick to stay home from school or avoid undesirable activities or situations. It is important to know how to determine if a child is actually sick to prevent both a loss of school time and a loss of work hours. If the child is sick, it is just as important to determine how sick they are and whether or not medical care is necessary.

Watch Their Behavior

  • Children are typically more fussy when they are feeling unwell.
  • Children who suddenly behave better after they are told they can stay home may be faking illness.
  • Some children may try to hide signs of illness to participate in certain activities, although they may appear sluggish, weak, or even disoriented.
  • Lethargic behavior may be an indication of sickness.

Check Their Temperature

  • A rise in body temperature is a sign of infection or other illness.
  • A rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or an oral temperature of 100 degrees or higher indicates a fever.
  • Any sign of fever in infants four months old or younger can be life-threatening and requires immediate attention.
  • High fevers are typically a sign of an underlying condition.
  • Kids with temperatures of 100.4 will feel poorly and should be kept home until the fever has been resolved for at least 24 hours.
  • Children between 2 and 17 years old with temperatures of 102 degrees or higher should get medical treatment if it lasts more than three days, as it may be a sign of a more serious illness.

Watch for Vomiting

  • Vomiting in excess can lead to dehydration.
  • A child who vomits once in a 24-hour period is likely not sick and can generally go to school or participate in their usual activities.
  • Vomiting more than once in a 24-hour period can be a cause for concern and is a symptom of a condition such as a bacterial or viral infection of the gastrointestinal tract.

Pay Attention to Bowel Movements

  • Diarrhea can be a sign that a child has been exposed to a virus, parasite, or bacteria.
  • Loose stools aren't problematic if they are not affecting the child's behavior.
  • Keep kids at home if they have watery stools three or more times a day, as they may be contagious.
  • Excessive diarrhea can cause dehydration.
  • Contact a pediatrician if mucus or blood is present in the stool or if there is also vomiting or a fever of 102 degrees or higher.

Don't Dismiss Stomachache Complaints

  • Complaints of an extreme or intense stomachache or pain in the lower right abdomen may be a sign of appendicitis.
  • Allergies or intolerance to certain foods may cause pain in the stomach.
  • Stomach pain could indicate constipation.
  • If accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea, it may be the stomach flu or gastroenteritis, which is contagious if viral.
  • Call or visit a doctor if the stomachache is accompanied by diarrhea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, or changes in behavior.
  • In some cases, a stomachache may simply be a sign of nerves and not a sign of sickness.

Beware of a Sore Throat

  • A child with a sore throat, stuffy nose, and cough typically has a cold.
  • Sore throats with no cold symptoms for more than three days may be a sign of another problem, and a doctor should be called.
  • A child who has a sore throat along with a fever, swollen tonsils, and stomach pain may have strep throat.
  • A sore throat with symptoms such as a red, bumpy rash or a white coating on the tongue, a fever, chills, abdominal pain, and vomiting may have scarlet fever.







Burt Cancaster, Author

Vitality Medical
7910 South 3500 East, Suite C
Salt Lake City, UT 84121
(801) 733-4449
[email protected]


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