What to do when your child gets sick

Providence registered nurses Susan Bachhuber and Twila Coleman offer their advice on how to treat a sick child.

If you’re a parent, it’s your job to worry when your child gets sick. With cold and flu season under way, we can help take some of the guesswork out of when to worry and what to do when your child is ill.

With children, behavior is a key indicator of whether you should call your pediatrician. It is important to monitor your child’s symptoms, including sore throat, earache, cough, rash, vomiting or diarrhea.

Fluid intake is extremely important for sick children. In particular, if your infant is missing feedings and producing fewer wet diapers, you should contact a health care professional for advice on how to keep your child hydrated.

Additionally, if your child experiences any of the following symptoms, contact your child’s health care provider immediately:

  • Vomiting, with signs of dehydration such reduced urination, dry mouth or sunken eyes
  • Cough, with wheezing, chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Inconsolability, particularly in infants
  • True lethargy – exemplified by difficulty in waking or keeping awake your child

Dealing with fever

How to approach your child’s fever depends on his or her age, accompanying symptoms and overall behavior. For instance, if your child has a fever but is eating and sleeping normally, and is still playful, you may wait to call the doctor; however, if your child has a fever and is displaying concerning symptoms or not acting like themselves, then it is time to call for help.

Following are some basic guidelines on when to seek advice from a health care professional:

  • Your infant, 3 months old or younger, has a temperature of 99.4°F or greater
  • Your child, older than 3 months, is running a temperature greater than 100.4°F
  • Your child had a fever, which went away for 24 hours or longer, but has returned
  • Your child has had a fever for three or more days

If your child develops a fever and you’re unsure what to do, we encourage you to call the Providence RN Medical Advice Line at 503-574-6520 or 800-700-0481. This 24-hour-a-day advice line staffed by registered nurses is available to all Providence Health Plan members. Before you rush off to the emergency room or an urgent care clinic, speaking with a Providence nurse – or a nurse at your child’s pediatric practice – can help you determine how to best treat your child. Don’t forget to plug the Providence RN telephone numbers into your mobile phone so you won’t be scrambling at the last minute when you need them.

When to seek immediate care

If your child’s condition is life-threatening, your hospital emergency room is the best place for him or her to receive care. If your child’s condition is not life-threatening but requires urgent medical attention, call your child’s health care provider first – usually, a pediatrician from the practice at which your child is a patient is on call to handle urgent inquiries – or visit your closest urgent or immediate care clinic. Learn more about how to distinguish between a true emergency and an urgent, non-life-threatening medical need on our emergency and urgent care Web page.

If you live in the Portland metropolitan area, you can visit our immediate care clinics Web page for clinic locations and hours. Here, you can also find an up-to-date listing of wait times at each of our clinics. Don’t forget to bookmark this page on your computer or phone so you can be prepared when illness – or emergency – strikes.