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Getting to the bottom of your kids' health issues

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Chronic condition? Or nothing at all?

Does your child seem to have a chronic or persistent medical issue? How do you know? Are symptoms related? Or not? Are they subtle? Blatant? Somewhere in between? It can be hard enough to sort out chronic issues in our own bodies and lives -- trying to sort them out in our kids can be harder, especially if your child is pre-verbal. Add in the desire and pressure to do right by our kid and...sigh.

child seeing doctor

Getting the bottom of kids health issues is sometimes easy and sometimes a challenge. When you child reaches the "magic" number of ear infections in a season, you know you're going to see the ENT. But what about other, more subtle problems?

Persistent issues?

Trying to figure out whether your child really has a persistent health issue can be a little bit of a challenge. On the one hand, it's easy to dismiss little day-to-day things in your child as "nothing." On the other, it can be easy to make something big out of a little thing. Trying to figure out which is which is a fine line -- and good moms have erred on both sides. Often.

Symptom tracking

If you've chosen to keep a family health record, this is a good way to keep track of symptoms and issues as well. Tracking colds, ear infections, doctors' visits and the like can help determine whether there is a pattern to health issues or just a flukey set of conditions. If you start to suspect something, keep track in one place -- and take that record with you when you see a medical care provider.

Careful with the Internet

As wonderful and helpful as the Internet is in so many ways, you do need to be very careful about what you search and how. For all the sites with vetted, accurate data, there are dozens more with inaccurate data that may lead you down the wrong path or scare you unnecessarily. Although some anecdotes can be helpful in making you feel you are not alone in a certain issue, remember that each child is unique. Just because a child half the country away has similar symptoms, it does not (necessarily) mean the children have the same diagnosis.

First line of response

Your first line of response is your child's primary care provider, whether a pediatrician, family medicine doctor or nurse practitioner. This is a person that -- you hope -- knows your child well, has an understanding of his or her medical history and knows you well, too. Hopefully you have a good rapport with this provider and can convey your concerns adequately -- and those concerns can be heard with respect and seriousness. This person is always the first person with whom to talk about your concerns.

Asking for specialists

You may need to ask for a specialist to see your child -- but might not know what kind of specialist. Your child's primary care provider should be able to refer you into a network of trusted specialists that can address the issue at hand -- or, better yet, reassure you that your child is perfectly fine.

If your child's primary care provider is resistant to the referral, you may be able to self-refer if you feel very strongly about it…but it also might mean your child is really okay and he or she doesn't need it.

When to back off -- or go deeper

Your child might well have a health issue that needs further investigation -- or he might not. Knowing when to push a little on the issue and when to back down is hard. It's a bit of information and a bit of gut feeling.

If you feel really strongly that your child has an issue, further investigation may be warranted. If you're just not sure, backing off a little bit until you have a stronger feeling one way or the other may be the way to go.

More about your child's health

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