Knowing when to take sick kids to the doctor

January 16, 2012 4:32:39 AM PST
One of the things parents worry about the most is when a child starts to look or feel sick.

Pediatricians say parents should follow their instincts, but there are also a few good hard and fast rules to remember.

It's a relief when your child is finally at the pediatrician's office and in expert hands. But figuring out when to take him or her and when to just wait and see can be a confusing task for parents.

One guide to always follow, according to doctors, is temperature. And the child's age can be the guide.

"Fever above 100.3 in any baby under 3 months, get to your doctor that day," said Dr. Ellen Rome, of the Cleveland Clinic's Children's Hospital.

From babies between the ages of 3 to 6 months, the temperature can get to 101 before parents call the doctors.

For a child over 6 months, there's a little more leeway.

"If you have a kid that has a fever and they're a toddler and it's above 101 and it's lasting a couple of days or they're not looking right to you, get seen," Dr. Rome said.

Pediatricians say older children should see their doctors if their fever reaches 103.

But fever is not the only sign. A consistently dry diaper or a sunken head could be a sign of dehydration.

If a child is listless, irritable or confused, it's time to check in with the doctor.

And Dr. Rome says if a child wakes in the middle of the night with stomach pain, it could be the sign of something bigger.

"Things that wake them from sleep may actually need to be sorted out," she said. "For instance, belly pain that starts around the belly button, moves down to the right lower side, can be a hallmark for appendicitis."

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a new symptom checker tool that they've just put online. You can find it at They also have it as an iPhone app.

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