How to determine baby and tot sickness

Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., author of Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers and the American Academy of Pediatrics' Caring For Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5, sheds light on caring for kids during cold and flu season.

Dr. Tanya gave great information on giving up the binky in last week's Parenting Guru: Too old for a pacifier?, and she's back again to talk about surviving flu season with babies and toddlers.

What do parents of babies and toddlers need to be most concerned about this time of year?

Dr. Tanya: Cold and flu season's on! Healthy children (with normal immune systems) can catch around 10 infections a year, especially if they're in childcare or preschool. Most of the usual suspects (coughs and colds) are caused by viruses and will clear up on their own. Two of the most common serious viral infections to be on the lookout for: RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and Influenza (Flu).

How are parents with little ones supposed to know when to bring them to the pediatrician, and when to stay home?

Dr. Tanya: Your baby will show you he's not feeling well by changing his normal behavior. He may drink less, cry more, sleep more or less, breathe faster, spike a fever or just not look right to you. Babies are more susceptible to serious infections that can progress rapidly, so it is very important to call your doctor right away if you think something is wrong. Even if it's 2 a.m.!

If your baby is younger than 3 months and has a fever of 100.4 or higher, call your pediatrician right away. Other reasons to call your doctor include excessive fussiness, continuous crying, poor feeding, extreme sleepiness, rapid breathing, decreased wet diapers, vomiting, sweating while feeding or any blueness of the skin, especially around the mouth.

What do you do if your child's nose is goopy and runny? Is there a way to tell if it's a virus or an infection by looking at the color?

Dr. Tanya: Despite what grandma may say, a green goopy nose doesn't always mean a bacterial infection that needs antibiotics. Plenty of common cold viruses cause green mucus that goes away on its own. If your child has a clear runny nose for more than a week or two, and then it turns green, she gets a fever, or seems uncomfortable, fussy and irritable, have your pediatrician check her out because she may have developed a sinus or ear infection that may need treatment.

If your tot is coughing, should he stay home from daycare or preschool?

Dr. Tanya: Generally speaking, your child can be around other kids once any fever's been gone for 24 hours and he's feeling better. If he's on an antibiotic for any reason, he should receive the medicine for at least 24 hours before being around other kids. If he's coughing up a storm or his nose is running like a faucet, he shouldn't be around other kids. Often it's the milder symptoms, such as slight runny nose and occasional cough that leave parents wondering what to do. Only you can make that game-day decision, but be considerate of others. Before you take him out, think to yourself, would I want another child with the same symptoms around my child?

Dr. Tanya's health tips

  • Vaccinate everyone 6 months and older against the flu
  • Teach children to wash their hands well with soap and water
  • If soap and water are not available, used hand sanitizer or wipes
  • Teach kids to blow their nose and throw tissue in the trash
  • Show children how to cough into their elbow to prevent spreading germs
  • Eat healthy, exercise and get plenty of sleep

Read more about kids and sickness

8 signs your baby is sick
How to prevent the flu in children
10 kid-friendly foods to prevent colds and flu

Tags: toddler health

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Comments on "Parenting Guru: Can you conquer cold and flu season?"

Jill D March 07, 2012 | 11:22 AM

Eeek - up to 10 infections a year! Sounds about right to me, unfortunately! When in doubt, I do keep my kids home (for their sake as well as everyone else's). I'm lucky that my job allows me great flexibility, but I know it's much harder for other parents who both have to work and don't have much flexibility. One thing that I wish SCHOOLS would do is get rid of those silly "perfect attendance awards". I know of friends who were on the fence about keeping their child home but didn't want to spoil her "perfect attendance streak" so they sent her, and she ended up quite sick. (Of course they would have kept her home if she presented those symptoms in the morning, but I truly think if there wasn't that silly award, they would have just let her stay home in the first place).

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