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October 2018

Is Your Child Sick? When to Call the Doctor

Fever. Coughing. Tummy ache. Illness and kids go together like macaroni and cheese. In fact, with their developing immune systems, it’s normal for infants and toddlers to get 8 to 10 colds in their first 2 years alone.

Still, it’s tough to know whether home remedies, such as rest and drinking plenty of fluids, are enough or if the situation warrants calling the doctor. Our symptom guide can help you know what’s worrisome and what’s not.


A fever—a body temperature above 99.5 degrees with an oral thermometer or a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher—is a healthy sign. It means your child’s immune system is rallying against infection. But fever can also be cause for alarm.

Call the doctor if your child:

  • Is 3 months old or younger with a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Has a fever above 104°F (40°C)

  • Has other symptoms with the fever, such as a severe headache, sore throat, ear pain, repeated vomiting or diarrhea, or an unexplained rash

  • Seems to be getting worse


It’s always distressing to hear your little one cough, especially in the middle of the night. But it’s helpful to know that coughing often sounds worse than it is and that it serves an important purpose. It’s the body’s way of clearing the airways.

Call the doctor if your child:

  • Has a cough that doesn’t get better in a few days

Tummy ache

As unpleasant and scary as vomiting is, it can do some good. Vomiting can help expel a toxin from your child’s system. In some cases, vomiting is caused by a virus and doesn’t need treatment. It will stop on its own. But vomiting can sometimes require treatment.

Call the doctor if your child:

  • Can’t keep clear liquids down

  • Seems to be getting worse


Still not sure what to do?

Use this symptom checker.

Online Medical Reviewer: Gonnella, Joseph, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/30/2018
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