When Should I Call the Pediatrician?

mom on the phone

*Excerpt taken from KA’s Academy Newsletter January 2011*

How many times have you retrieved your pediatrician’s phone number from your rolodex, only to stare at your phone wondering: Should I call, or shouldn’t I? No one wants to pester the doctor needlessly or halt the day’s plans for no good reason. On the other hand, a call to the doctor can put your mind at ease and prevent a child’s illness from escalating to something more severe.

If you are on the fence about whether or not to call your pediatrician, you may want to consider the following guidelines, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), to help you make an informed decision.

When a fever warrants a call to the pediatrician 

The seriousness of a fever depends largely on the age of the child and how high the fever is. The AAP urges parents to call their pediatrician if a child is:

Two months or younger and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher.

Three to six months of age and has a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius) or greater.

Older than six months with a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) or higher.

Miscellaneous symptoms that warrant a call to the doctor

A sore throat that makes it difficult to swallow, or that lasts for more than two days

An earache that wakes a child from sleep or interferes with daily activity because of associated pain, or that lasts for more than a day or two

A cough that is nonstop, interferes with normal activity (sleeping or physical activity), is accompanied by wheezing, or that persists for several days

An unexplained rash

Repeated vomiting or diarrhea

Behavior counts

A fever doesn’t always tell the whole story. Nor do other tangible symptoms like a sore throat. Experts inform us that our children’s behavior is often the best barometer of how well, or bad, they feel. So, if your child has a fever but maintains a hearty appetite and activity level close to normal, that generally means there’s less to worry about than when a fever is accompanied by other worrisome, but perhaps less tangible, symptoms—like extreme lethargy or fussiness.

The bottom line is this: You know your child best—how active, happy, or fussy she typically is. Any dramatic changes in behavior—for example, complete loss of appetite in a child who’s typically a good eater—should serve as a red flag.

Post in: