7 things your doctor wishes you knew about your child’s health

Ever wonder what your family physician is really thinking behind their polite smile? One doctor let us in on seven truths about your child’s health that medical professionals wish you knew…

baby sickness symptom

Should you rush your child to the hospital after a bump to the head? Does your little one need antibiotics for that cough? Should you administer a fever reducer at the first sign of a temperature? Between advice from your mother, your mom friends and Dr. Google, the answers to even the most basic questions about your child’s health can be confusing and unclear.

We asked Dr. Marc Price, a private practice physician in Malta, NY and President of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, to let us in on some of the simple truths doctors wish they could tell you (or wish you’d listen to!) about your child’s health and wellbeing.

1. There are some symptoms you should never ignore

When our kids are sick, it can be hard to know whether certain symptoms are a normal part of the illness or they warrant a visit to the doctor. This can lead some parents to hold off on seeing their pediatrician or family physician when they really should.

“Symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored include labored breathing, listlessness, non-healing sores, not urinating within the past eight hours, sunken features of the face such as the eyes, fever greater than 106 degrees, not taking anything by mouth for 12 hours, and changes in their overall personality,” says Dr. Price.

2. If you’re unsure what to do, call your doctor

If your child experiences any of the symptoms mentioned above, they have a serious fall or there’s anything else that’s worrying you, call your family physician without delay. “They’ll tell you whether your child needs to be seen in their office immediately or you should report to the ED,” says Dr. Price.

3. Your child doesn’t need antibiotics for a cold

Antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial infections such as strep throat and staph skin infections, but they’re useless when it comes to treating colds, flus, bronchitis and other viral infections.

When antibiotics are incorrectly prescribed or overused, the bacteria they’re meant to kill become too strong for them – a phenomenon known as antibiotic resistance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. Because of this misuse, antibiotic resistance has become one of the biggest health threats in the U.S.

But despite these sobering facts and numerous public health campaigns to educate Americans about the dangers of over-prescribing antibiotics, parents continue to demand them for their sick children.

“A majority of people want antibiotics for themselves or their children for inappropriate reasons,” says Dr. Price. “They’re under the impression that a medication will make everything all better when sometimes time and supportive measures are all that are required. Sometimes, no matter what we say, they don’t believe us… even when we explain why antibiotics aren’t appropriate and that they can potentially cause more harm than good. They’re looking for the ‘magic bullet’ to fix their children’s illnesses when many times such a cure doesn’t exist.”

4. You don’t always need to treat a fever

You might reach for the acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) the minute your child has a temperature, but treating a fever isn’t always necessary.

“If a newborn up to three months old has any fever at all, you should take it seriously and seek medical care,” says Dr. Price. “A newborn’s immune system typically hasn’t matured enough to mount a fever response to an infection. Although breastfeeding can help because some of the mother’s antibodies are conferred to the infant through the milk, even a low-grade fever [98.6° F to 100.4° F] in this group should be brought to the physician’s attention.”

But in older babies and children, low-grade fevers can be left alone. “A fever is typically productive,” says Dr. Price. “It’s your body’s way of trying to make the body less hospitable for the infecting agent and to try to ‘burn’ it out. I tell parents that they should only treat the fever if one or both of two things occur: the patient is uncomfortable, or the parent is uncomfortable. But I also need to manage expectations because fever reducers will only reduce a fever by one to two degrees. So, if the fever is 103 to 104 degrees, it should only come down to 101 to 102 degrees. I also stress other methods of reducing fevers like tepid baths, cool liquids, ice pops if they’re age-appropriate, and cool washcloths on foreheads.”

5. A rash isn’t always cause for concern

Many parents worry when they see red bumps spreading on their child’s skin, but Dr. Price says most rashes aren’t dangerous.

“Many rashes are allergic in nature, whether they’re due to an internal issue such as eczema or an external one like poison ivy,” he explains. “Others are related to infectious causes ranging from a simple virus to meningitis. And yet others are simple, benign things like cradle cap or keratosis pilaris, which is rough goose flesh on the sides of kids’ upper arms. Though most are non-concerning, my advice is to seek out a doctor’s advice about any unusual rashes that a child develops because it’s always nice to have some reassurance.”

6. Stop using the internet to diagnose your child’s ailments

It’s easy to fall into the trap of using Dr. Google to identify your child’s illness, but it’s best to leave that job to your doctor.

“I’m all for parents getting more information, but too many times they try to diagnose based on Google,” says Dr. Price. “While family physicians will be objective in interpreting the history and exam information, unfortunately parents often think their children have everything, no matter how rare. It’s similar to the way I had every disease I read about in my medical textbook.”

7. It’s my job to give you parenting advice too

If your doctor has ever given you advice such as “You should think about establishing a bedtime routine” or “Let some of your child’s bad behavior slide”, you may have worried that they thought you weren’t doing a good job as a parent.

But according to Dr. Price, your family physician isn’t judging you – they’re just doing their job and trying to help. “In my opinion, that’s part of what we do when counseling parents about behaviors, child-rearing and much more,” he says.