|Your child doesn’t feel well, but should you take him to the emergency department? Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a child requires urgent medical treatment or if the concern can wait.|
Dr. Eric Jorge is a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Children’s of Alabama. He’s seen children come to the emergency department who could have been treated at home. “It’s always a good place to start if your child is sick or has a fever, to call your on-call pediatrician or nurse,” Dr. Jorge said. “They can help guide you as to whether it’s appropriate to seek care in the emergency department or not.”
You should always take your child to the emergency department in a true emergency. These signs include:
Go to Emergency Department for:
• serious injury
• persistent vomiting
• trouble breathing
• not drinking enough, not urinating enough
• unusual sleepiness or confusion
• a head injury with vomiting
• eye injury
• serious burns
• ingested poison or unknown substance
Call 911 if your child:
• isn’t breathing or is turning blue
• is unconscious after a fall
• is having a seizure
• has a serious allergic reaction
• has broken a bone that sticks out through the skin
• is choking
• has a large cut that is bleeding uncontrollably
A high fever can be scary for a parent to see, however, Dr. Jorge said it’s the body’s natural defense mechanism against infection. “Fever is not actually dangerous to children,” he said. “A fever can make you feel pretty bad, but even a fever up to 104 or 105 degrees Fahrenheit can be handled at home.” He recommends giving a child ibuprofen or acetaminophen to see if that brings the fever down. Dr. Jorge also said that most children who are diagnosed with COVID-19 do not require emergency care and can be treated at home.
Babies are the exception to these guidelines, Dr. Jorge said. “Fever in a baby under 2 months old is considered an emergency. If your newborn has a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, please seek care immediately.”
Dr. Jorge stresses the importance of every child having a pediatrician. Through an established relationship with a pediatrician, a child can receive better long-term care, and there is always someone on call 24-7 to help determine the best treatment for your child when you’re not sure if you need to take them to the emergency department.
Fall typically marks the start of ‘respiratory illness season,’ so in addition to protecting yourself from COVID-19, it’s also time to get your annual flu vaccine.
Getting a flu vaccine — combined with the additional protection of masks, hand washing and social distancing — is the best way to reduce the likelihood of getting sick. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.
Delphene Hobby-Noland, manager of infection prevention and control at Children’s of Alabama, said hand washing is the best way to stop the spread of germs.
“Our hands are the primary way that we transmit germs,” Hobby-Noland said. She suggests washing hands with soap for about 20 seconds (hint: sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice). Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a good alternative when soap and water are unavailable.
Hobby-Noland said that those most susceptible to the flu are children and the elderly because their immune systems tend to be weaker. Children under the age of 5, especially those younger than 2 years old, are particularly more likely to suffer from flu-related complications. These complications include pneumonia, dehydration, worsening of long-term medical problems like heart disease or asthma, swelling in the brain, sinus problems and ear infections. Children younger than 6 months cannot receive the flu shot, meaning that it is important for everyone who is of age to be immunized, especially caregivers and parents of young children. While the shot does not cover all strains of the flu, it can shorten or cause the case to be less severe even if someone does get the illness.
Other preventative measures involve disinfecting commonly used surfaces, as well as encouraging children to cover their mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and to avoid touching their faces.
If your child is experiencing milder flu-like symptoms, contact your pediatrician or primary care provider before going to the hospital. This helps to prevent further overcrowding, risking exposure to more serious illnesses and spreading the flu to children with underlying conditions who can’t fight infection as well as others.
Common symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever or feeling feverish with chills, though not all people with the flu will have a fever
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea, which are more common in children
For more flu and respiratory illness resources, visit https://www.childrensal.org/cold-and-flu-updates-and-resources