How to spot if your child is ill

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a In general, how can you find out if a child is ill?

b What is a very high temperature for a child?

c How can you spot if a child has meningitis?

d Why should you as a parent always trust your feelings?

e Can you think of other signs of possible illness in a child? Make a list and discuss in groups of three.


How to spot if your child is ill

Sometimes there's no doubt. But often it's difficult to tell whether a child is ill. Children may be listless, hot and miserable one minute, and running around quite happily the next. Watch out for:

* some sign of illness (like vomiting or a temperature, cough, runny nose, runny eyes);

* behaviour that's unusual for your child (like a lot of crying, being very irritable or refusing food and drink, being listless or drowsy).

Babies and small children
Possible signs of illness are always more worrying if your child is a baby or very small. The following symptoms are always urgent and you should get help immediately if they occur:

* a fit (convulsion), or if your baby turns blue or very pale (in a dark-skinned baby check the palms of the hands) or seems floppy;

* a very high temperature (over 39 ºC), especially if there's a rash;

* difficulty breathing, breathing fast or grunting breathing;

* unusually drowsy or hard to wake or doesn't seem to know you;

* a temperature, but the skin of the hands and feet feels cold and clammy;

* a purple-red rash anywhere on the body – this could be a sign of meningitis.

Older children
If your child is older and you're not sure whether or not to see the doctor, you might want to carry on normally for a while and see whether the signs of illness or pain continue. It might be best not to let your child see you watching. Most children can put on an act, especially if they see you're worried.

Above all, trust your feelings. You know better than anyone what your child is like day-to-day, so you'll know what's unusual or worrying. If you're worried, contact your doctor. Even if it turns out that nothing is wrong, that is exactly what you need to know.

If you have seen your GP or health visitor and your baby isn't getting better or is getting worse, contact your GP again the same day. If you become worried and you can't get hold of your GP or your GP can't come to you quickly enough, then take your baby straight to the Accident and Emergency department of the nearest hospital, one with a children's ward if possible. It's worth finding out in advance where this is, in case you ever need it.