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Mom's Survival Guide for Children's Illnesses

Updated on October 26, 2012
Janine Huldie profile image

Janine is a published author in Only Trollops Shave Above the Knees, appears on The Huffington Post and at Confessions of A Mommyaholic.

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It is that time of year, fall has barely just begun and along with it comes some common household illnesses, especially for young kids. In my own house alone, I have as most already know two daughters (3 years old and almost 2 years old), both have already been sick by now for the first time this Fall season. My 3 year old had a virus, which was accompanied by vomiting, fever and then left her with a cough. My almost 2 year old has had a fever also and so far knock on wood nothing else.

As most, moms I hate seeing my kids ill and I also selfishly hate having to take care of them, especially when they are sick for a few days and have to hear constant crying and whining accompanied with these illnesses. The lack of sleep alone from having a sick child in the house could drive even the sanest quite mad.

By the way, my household gets their yearly flu shots too around this time as an added boost for our immune systems to try to help us all fight off whatever may ail us.

So now I have compiled a list of common sicknesses in children their symptoms, treatments and when to even call their pediatrician. After having little one’s in the house for the last three years, I have learned what to expect and how to go about handling all sorts of scenarios too. This is pretty much mom’s survival guide 101 for the upcoming fall/winter flu season.

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1. Common Cold (Upper Respiratory Infection or URI)

At the sight of the first runny now, I admit the Germaphobe in me cringes. I know what will be coming next and it usually isn't a pretty sight. So here we go:

Symptoms:

  • Runny Nose (usually clear and watery at first and turn yellowish or greenish)
  • Nasal Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Sometimes Fever (in toddlers)
  • Scratchy Throat
  • Dry cough (usually worse at night)
  • Fatigue and tiredness

Cause:

  • Usually is viral (most prevalent is known as Rhinovirus)
  • Because toddlers especially have few opportunities to build up immunities they are much more susceptible.
  • Hand to hand contact
  • Through droplet contact from sneezes or coughs or even playing with a toy that another child who is sick had. (Kids usually are more prone to touching their mouth and putting things near it)

Treatment:

  • Usually lasts for about 7-10 fun-filled days (yes that is my sarcasm coming through just a bit!)
  • Time to relax (naps help)
  • Use a humidifier if possible to help dry up and clear nasal passages.
  • Decongestants (but be sure to ask the doctor what is allowed and the dosage by child's weight). For example, Emma is small for her age and I am told the exact dosage for her weight of Children's Benedrayal from her pediatrician (better safe than sorry here).
  • Child's Tylenol or Motrin (again ask the doctor for the correct dosage by weight). This helps with the fever and/or aches and pains too. Usually the child get s dose of Tylenol and then with-in 4-6 hours get a dose of Motrin. You switch them off every other dose, but please do ask your pediatrician if you aren't sure.

When to Call the Doctor:

If your child:

  • Has greenish or yellowish foul-smelling phlegm or nasal discharge
  • Trouble breathing (rapid breathing)
  • Chest Discomfort
  • A worsening cough that just won't go away.
  • Trouble Swallowing
  • If you can see spots (yellowish or white) on the throat
  • Swollen Glands
  • Ear Pulling (could be an Ear Infection)
  • Has a fever over 102o. Or a low grade fever that lasts for more than 4 days.

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2. Croup

Last year, Emma (my older child) woke up during the night and it sounded as thought heir was a seal in the room. Of course there wasn't and in fact it was just my small child indeed coughing. But we did get concerned and brought her to the pediatrician the very next morning and was told that she had Croup, which is what makes the cough sound like a barking seal.

Symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of a bark-like cough possibly during the middle of the night
  • Gasping for breath
  • Hoarseness
  • May or may not be accompanied by a fever
  • May last several days up to a week

Causes:

  • Narrowing of the airways due to an inflammation of the larynx and trachea.
  • Could be from an allergy, viral infection or both.
  • Possible transmission is from direct contact with someone else who had it.

Treatment:

  • Inhaling steam
  • Cool night air
  • Humidifier
  • Severe cases may need inhaled steroids to help open airway passages.

When to Call the Doctor:

  • Immediately if it is the child's first case of croup (like my daughter Emma)
  • If the child has trouble breathing.
  • If it is arepeat case, just try to follow the doctor's orders from the previous case.

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3. Sore Throat

I have to admit so far I have been on the luckier side and not had too much experience with just sore throats, but last week when Emma was sick she was tested for Strep Throat, because apparently the beginnings or onset of Strep can be detected by possible vomiting, which did actually happen to Emma. Thankfully the culture came back negative, but here is what to look out for with throat ailments and possible Strep too.

Symptoms:

  • Pain and difficultly swallowing and is also sometimes accompanied with a cold.
  • If it is Strep, the child may have a low grade fever, irritability, loss of appetite and even swollen glands too.

Causes:

  • Allergy
  • Cold Virus (the good old Rhinovirus)
  • Group A Streptococcus bacteria
  • is usually transmitted the same as the cold virus
  • Could last for a few days; if strep will respond to treatment within a day or two.

Treatment:

  • Warm liquids (soothing and not acidic)
  • Humidifier
  • Tylenol or Motrin for the pain, but only once Strep is indeed ruled out.
  • If it is strep, then an antibiotic is the best treatment.

When to call the doctor:

  • If thought that it is indeed strep to have a throat culture performed.
  • Fever is over 101o F.

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4. Ear Infection

Up until last year, I was proud to be able to say that I only had to deal with this once when my older daughter was an infant. At around 5 months old, Emma developed an ear infection. It was right after Christmas and she would not sleep except on me one night . It was plain torture for her and for me too. I immediately took her to the doctor and she was diagnosed with an ear infection. She was prescribed amoxicillin. This, though did not work, because within a day or two she was still miserable and back at her doctor, where it was determined that she now had a double ear infection. she was finally prescribed a stronger antibiotic, which did the trick thankfully and the ear infection finally cleared up.

However last winter, my younger daughter at a little over a year old got her first ear infection and she was not so lucky. She was a repeat offender off and on all winter. I feared tubes, but thankfully somehow she seemed to grow out of them, but still not a fun experience for her or mom either. Here are some tell-tale sign, treatments and doctor's visit information.

Symptoms:

  • Usually ear pain in one or both ears (double ear infection)
  • Pain often worsens at night, because lying down actually causes the pressure in the ear to change.
  • You may see the child tugging at his/her ear or even clutching it.
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Possible nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, loose stools
  • The ear drum is usually red and bulging

Causes:

  • Bacteria and/or viruses can move into the middle ear from the nose or the throat into the ear which isn't draining properly.
  • Usually due from either the cold virus (Rhinovirus rears its ugly head again!), sinusitis, sore throat or allergies.

Treatment:

  • Take the child to the doctor immediately if thought to be an ear infection, because the best course of treatment is an antibiotic.
  • Make sure that your child has no allergies to the prescribed medicine. (My younger daughter was actually allergic to one of the antibiotics and was having loose bowel movements all day long about 8-10 times in a 24 hour period. She had to stop treatment and was then given something else).
  • Children's Tylenol and/or Motrin again for pain.

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5. Sinusitis

Again, we have been lucky to have so far escaped this illness in my household, but for those who may not be so lucky, please read on.

Symptoms:

  • A secondary sinus infection
  • Cold symptoms that continued for more than 10 days
  • Discharge that is clear, thick and yellowish or even whitish
  • Cough day and night
  • Swelling around the sinuses in the eyes, causing headache, eye and face pain.

Cause:

  • Bacteria
  • Allergy or even injury

Treatment:

  • Call the doctor, because antibiotics are usually the first course of treatment.
  • If antibiotics, don't work, then sinuses may be drained and/or irrigated.

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6. UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)

It was early summer and Emma had been potty trained for a few months. She had stayed dry for months now and all of a sudden two nights in a row she wet the bed. Then she began to complain of pain in that area. I took her to the doctor and lo and behold she had been given a urine culture to find out that she had a UTI. She was given antibiotics and her symptoms were pretty much cleared up by the end of the first day of treatment.

Symptoms:

  • Often, frequent urination
  • Painful urination
  • Blood in urine
  • Pain above the pubic bone
  • Incontinence
  • Tired and fever possible

Causes:

  • Bacteria that enters through the urethra. More common in girls, because the urethra is shorter in girls and can travel up it easier.
  • Most often the bacteria can enter from the stool contaminating the urethra.

Treatment:

  • Again antibiotic treatment is the first course of action here; so a trip to the doctor is necessary.
  • Child should be hydrated properly.
  • Cranberry juice has been known also to be helpful from having bacteria re-enter the urinary tract and urethra.
  • When children are potty training make sure to teach little girls (proper sanitary techniques) especially to wipe from front to back.
  • Avoid tight pants with breathable cotton like fabrics.
  • Avoid irritating bubble baths and/or soaps.

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7. Constipation

Both of my kids have battled this at one point or another in their short little lives. Emma had issues from the first weeks of her life. She had problems digesting lactose and dairy in her formula and ended up on a Hypoallergenic formula that was neither dairy nor soy based. As she has gotten older, she doesn't have any issues with milk based products now, but still from time to time if she doesn't get enough fruits and fiber in her diet. Lily never really had this problem as an infant, but did have problems with constipation when we first switched her from formula to whole milk (even though Idid follow the gradual switching as per the pediatrician's instructions). So I do have my fair share of experience with this tummy issue.

Symptoms:

  • Small, hard stools every 3 or 4 days or even if they are passed daily
  • They are difficult and quite painful to pass

Causes:

  • Diet low in fiber and fluids
  • May occur during temporary illness
  • Sometimes can even occur in children who are potty training, who are scared to perform.

Treatment:

  • More Fiber to the diet
  • More Fluids also
  • Exercise can also help.
  • Lubrication, like Vasoline can help at the anal opening to have the movement come out easier.

When to Call the Doctor:

  • When a toddler hasn't had a bowel movement for 4 to 5 days.
  • When it is accompanied by abdominal pain and/or vomiting.
  • When it is chronic and nothing else seems to work.

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8. Diarrhea

Having two young kids, I have also had my fair share of cleaning up messes of the other variety with diarrhea. This past summer Emma had a stomach bug and my poor child was using the bathroom about 6 times over the course of the day. One of the times she barely actually made it there and at 3 year old still wasn't completely understanding what she was going through or why. All she kept telling me was, "My tummy hurts". It was truly pathetic and again not a fun experience.

Symptoms:

  • Two or three or even more liquidy stools in a 24 hour period.
  • If it last more 2 to 3 weeks it could be more of a chronic issue.

Causes:

  • Could be from Micro-organisms such as viruses, bacteria, or even parasites.
  • Eating too much of certain food, such as fresh or dried fruit, prunes, fruit juices.
  • Allergy to certain foods or medication, such as dairy or an antibiotic.
  • Teething can also cause this

Treatment:

  • Drinking plenty water based products, because milk may irritate this condition more).
  • Eating easy to digest food (such toast, bananas, fruit (apple/pears) sauces, rice, plain pasta, potatoes, cereal.

When to Call the Doctor:

  • If the child shows physical signs of dehydration.
  • If it lasts longer than 24 hours.

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9. Influenza (Flu)

I have to be honest and tell you that neither of my children have actually had the flu. My knowledge of the flu is from myself. I had it as a child and also a few years back the winter right after I met my husband. From what I can remember I never want to have this disease again. This is why I successfully get a flu shot every year now in September at the beginning of the flu season.

Symptoms:

  • Sudden headache and fever accompanied with chills and shaking too.
  • Fatigue
  • Achiness
  • Dry Cough
  • May include nausea and vomiting

Causes:

  • Influenza A and B

Treatment:

  • Lots of fluids
  • Rest
  • Humidifier
  • Tylenol or Motrin for the pain

When to See the Doctor:

  • Pretty much a rule of thumb, if you think it could be the flu, the child should be taken to see their doctor.

Summing It Up...

So there you have the above are the most common illnesses that do occur to children broken down by symptom, causes, treatment and when to call the pediatrician if need be. Remember this, if you are a parent do try to go with your gut. If you are still unsure about when to call your child's doctor, but feel something just isn't right that call to their doctor may very well be the one thing that does ease your mind a bit; then by all means make the phone call. Trust me there have been times even after using all the prior knowledge that has been afforded to me that I am still not sure and have made that call. And I have never been sorry, because my children's health is the most important thing.

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About the Author...

Janine is a freelance writer and mom of two. She is known for being a stay at home mom to two beautiful little girls right now. Life can totally get hectic and has learned to perfect and improvise all day and night too, because of this. You can checkout her profile and more of her family related articles here.

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