Common childhood illnesses: sensible solutions and treatments

A cold is probably the illness your child gets most frequently. On average, a child under seven years gets seven to ten colds per year, each lasting one to two weeks. Children over six months don't usually need to see their healthcare provider for a cold unless there is ear pain, sore throat or fever over 102 degrees that lasts longer than a day or two.

Another familiar fact: There's no cure for the common cold. Studies show that decongestants and cough medicines aren't very effective in reducing the symptoms or duration of a cold. Antibiotics are not necessary for an uncomplicated cold and may even set up a child for infections with resistant bacteria later on. The solution: liquids and rest.

Familiar Symptoms

  1. Fever. This may accompany a cold or other viral or bacterial illness. You can usually wait a day or two to see if other symptoms or complaints develop before seeking medical care for your feverish toddler or preschooler. Fevers under 101 degrees generally do not need to be treated unless a child has a history of convulsions with fever. If he is eating and sleeping reasonably well and is at least somewhat playful, you can watch and wait.

  2. Diarrhea. Unsurprising in young children, diarrhea is caused most often by viruses. When severe and prolonged, it can result in dehydration, something that is dangerous and preventable. If your child has a watery bowel movement every one to two hours for more than eight hours, you should check with your healthcare provider. If there are fewer than six diarrhea events per day and your child is drinking plenty of liquids and is reasonably playful, you can wait a day or two to see if he gets better before calling. Continue to offer his regular diet as tolerated, but avoid fried foods or foods high in fiber such as beans or broccoli.

Time for Action

If your child is younger than six and urinates fewer than four times in 24 hours, has parched, dry lips, produces fewer tears when crying, and is significantly more lethargic, he is dehydrated. If he has loose stools containing blood or pus or accompanied by a fever over 103 degrees, contact your healthcare provider.

How to Help

Children over three years old are often embarrassed about diarrhea, particularly if they have accidents. Assure your child that this happens to lots of kids, and never scold him about an accident. If his bottom gets irritated, clean it well and then apply a thin film of petroleum jelly. Kids can be taught to do this themselves with some supervision. Sipping room-temperature liquids slowly through a straw may help prevent dehydration without triggering a quick trip to the bathroom.

Steps to Prevention

How nice it would be if we could prevent all illness. Though that's impossible, it is possible to reduce the occurrence of many common illnesses. Thorough hand washing is the best way. Remind your child to wash his hands before eating, after using the toilet, and after wiping his nose. Other steps to take include establishing a regular sleep routine for your child, offering him a variety of healthful foods, and ensuring he gets plenty of physical activity.

The Upside

On the positive side, minor illnesses in childhood help build a strong immune system that serves a child well his entire life. In addition, minor illnesses offer a time for your child to learn about his body, what germs are all about, and how healing occurs. He'll probably be very interested in why noses run and poop comes so often. You can help your child get a sense of how the body works and heals, how today is better than yesterday, and how others who were sick are now all better. This will give him a growing sense of himself and an understanding that sickness is a manageable part of life. Helping your preschooler this way helps him learn and grow.

Don't Forget the Hugs

Illnesses let your child in on special family rituals like more pillows, cool washcloths for fevered brows, yummy chicken soup, and special backrubs from Mom or Dad. Children will often slip back to a younger age of more cuddles and greater indulgences. Parents like that part too, as they are free to baby their baby. Make the snuggling a special time, and enjoy the opportunity. Things will be back to normal soon!

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