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Is Your Child Really Sick?

More Tips on When to Call Your Pediatrician


Updated May 19, 2014


Fussiness accompanies many childhood illnesses. An important way to tell if your child is 'too fussy', is whether or not he is consolable. If your child is fussy and crying, but is easily calmed if you just hold him, then that is less concerning than a child who is not consolable and continues to cry.


If you call your pediatricians' office and say that your child is lethargic, a favorite word among many parents, you are likely to be told to bring your child in right away. Being lethargic, in medical terms, is usually an emergency and means your child is difficult to wake up. Many people use the term to mean that their child's activity is just a little decreased. I have had many 'lethargic' kids running around the office, only to find that the parent thinks their child is lethargic because he is usually running and jumping around.

If your child is really lethargic and difficult to wake up, then you should seek medical attention right away. It is less concerning if he is awake and alert and is just not as active as usual.


Children commonly get rashes, from having sensitive skin, warts, poison ivy and as part of many illnesses, such as chickenpox, fifth disease, and roseola. In general, you should call your doctor if your child has a rash and a fever, especially if the rash is purple and doesn't blanch or fade briefly when you press on it, or an itchy rash that isn't relieved with home remedies.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms that are usually concerning and require medical attention include, but are not limited to:
  • coughing or vomiting blood or having bloody diarrhea, especially if is accompanied by a fever
  • persistent pain, whether abdominal pain, a headache or knee pain, if your child has severe pain, especially if it limits is mobility and isn't relieved by home remedies, then you should call your doctor
  • seizures, especially if your child doesn't generally have a seizure disorder, such as febrile seizures or epilepsy
  • testicular pain, which is usually a medical emergency
  • head injuries, especially if your child had a loss of consciousness or is acting differently than usual
  • cuts and scrapes that require stitches, including those with persistent bleeding, or if the wound is deep and gaping or the skin doesn't come back together
  • a severe allergic reaction that includes trouble swallowing or breathing
  • a severe headache, especially if your child also has a stiff neck, irritability, vomiting or fever
  • pain when urinating (dysuria), which can be a sign of a urinary tract infection
  • weight loss, which is hardly ever normal in children and can be a sign of a more serious or chronic illness
  • for children with chronic symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, you should call your pediatrician if your child's symptoms seem worse then usual

Parenting Problems

Your Pediatrician should also be a good resource for you when you have parenting problems. Many parents only make appointments for medical problems, but you can also make an appointment or call when your child has sleep or behavior problems, difficulty potty training, problems at school, etc. Don't wait until the problem is out of control either. Some early help or advice may help prevent bigger problems from developing.


When in doubt, trust your instincts and call your doctor when your child is sick, especially if you think that your child is ill appearing. You should also call your doctor if your child's symptoms are worsening, even if he was recently seen by the doctor.
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