Why do children get sick so often?
Bacteria and viruses are two distinct causes for infections in children. Often a child will get a viral cold and then later on develop a secondary infection with bacteria which then turns into a condition such as a chest infection. It seems bacteria tend to infiltrate a body that is already “run down” fighting the viral infection.
For this reason parents worry about and monitor their baby’s illnesses very closely because of the delicacy of their immature immune systems. This is why doctors recommend breastfeeding because they know the natural antibodies found in breastmilk protects babies against many of them in addition to administering vaccines against some highly infectious diseases (such as measles, whooping cough and mumps which are now much less prevalent among school aged children as a result).
By school age children are still building up their immune systems to the many infections caused by the bacteria and viruses that they are exposed to on a day to day basis, and attending school increases your child’s propensity to becoming sick because the majority of common childhood illnesses are contagious and caught from classmates, and are likely to be passed on to siblings at home.
Parents who have sent their children to childcare prior to them starting school would already be aware of this and may feel as though one of their children is constantly sick between the toddler years and the teenage years. “The average school age child can expect 3-8 colds a year and 2-3 bouts of viral gastroenteritis,” says Dr Julia Driscoll, a GP who sub-specialises in children’s health.
This can make it difficult for parents to distinguish between a common illness and a serious illness, with many parents inclined to overlook symptoms or worry that simple illnesses are worse than they are. “I think parents tend to visit the GP a bit quickly on most occasions – I understand they need reassurance but a cold takes on average 2 weeks to run its course,” says Dr Julia. “But there are of course some symptoms that parents should never ignore.”
So how can I tell what to do when my child is sick?
Depending on what the illness is, the easiest way for parents to know if an illness is developing into something worse is by seeing how the initial symptoms progress. It may be frustrating for parents with a child complaining of pain and discomfort to visit the GP only to be told to take their child home to rest and drink plenty of fluids instead of a prescription but the fact is with most illnesses pharmacy medications are used to mask the symptoms until the illness has passed through the child’s system, rather than treating the illness itself, which needs time to clear up on its own.
Antibiotics act to treat the illness itself, but they can only be prescribed for bacterial infections. The key to ensuring antibiotics have the desired effect of getting rid of the illness they have been prescribed for, is to use them as directed. If people do try and use them for viruses it will increase the risk of bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotic.
However if your child displays any of the following symptoms in conjunction with an otherwise simple illness, parents should act immediately in seeking medical advice:
– A fever that lasts more than 48 hours or a fever that reaches 39.5 degrees Celcius or higher at any time.
– Difficulty breathing or sudden wheezing.
– Excessive sleepiness or confusion.
– A seizure, especially one that is related to any possible ingestion of poison. Febrile convulsions sometimes happen when very young children have a high temperature but it’s always best to see a doctor to be completely sure of the reason for the fever.
– Severe vomiting and/or diarrhoea that continues for longer than 24 hours as it could possibly lead to dehydration.
– Rashes that appear suddenly and spread quickly and occur in tandem with any of the things listed above.
– The presence of blood such as coughing up blood or blood in your child’s urine or vomit which is more than a few streaks such as large clots or an ongoing, steady flow of blood.
There are several illnesses that incite fear into all parents such as meningitis which is rare but life-threatening. Lots of the symptoms of meningitis mimic side effects of colds and the flu but children who display these symptoms without any of the 6 major indications of serious illness listed above are more likely suffering from one of the following common illnesses:
– Brooke Tasovac
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