What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Unwell Child?

Reviewed on 6/11/2021

A toddler or infant getting sick often worries parents, especially first-time parents. Signs and Symptoms of an unwell child include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing problems, headaches, jaundice and rash.
A toddler or infant getting sick often worries parents, especially first-time parents. Signs and Symptoms of an unwell child include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing problems, headaches, jaundice and rash.

A toddler or infant getting sick often worries parents, especially first-time parents. All sorts of thoughts might concern parents who are not aware of the signs of an unwell child. These are the signs and symptoms of a sick child. If you see them, you should  seek immediate medical attention.

Fever

Babies shouldn’t get a  fever in the first three months of life. If the infant has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F or higher, visit the doctor or ER. Fever in newborns could be a sign of a serious bacterial infection.

Vomiting or diarrhea

If a toddler has diarrhea or vomits, seek immediate medical attention. Infants can get dehydrated within 12 hours of severe diarrhea. Always check for a dry diaper, which will indicate dehydration. Besides that, check for blood or bile in the vomit or stools\.

Breathing problems

If the baby inhales and exhales rapidly, has noisy breathing and a spot in the middle of the chest sinks in, then seek immediate medical attention. Also, if the child coughs continuously, it could indicate asthma or that the child has inhaled an object. 

Headaches

Toddlers may hold their heads, bang their heads or repeatedly use words to indicate headaches. Headache is a rare complaint in toddlers and needs to be investigated.

Jaundice

Newborns often get mild jaundice that goes away in a few days. During the initial days of life, the liver doesn’t always function up to its full potential, so it can’t break down a substance in the blood called bilirubin. If jaundice persists for more than two weeks, consult the doctor immediately.

Rash

If the baby has tiny red dots on their chest, back, arms or legs that don’t fade when pressed, go to the doctor. Such a rash may indicate a severe infection, such as meningitis or blood vessel disease.

How to identify if the baby is healthy or sick

The table summarizes important signs that a parent should look out for in a child to determine if their child is sick.

Table. List of signs commonly used to distinguish a healthy or sick child

Characteristics   

  Reassuring signs    Worrisome signs Signs indicating serious illness
 Appearance  Appears bright-eyed and alert. Appears sleepy with dull eyes and little  expression on their face.

Stares “blankly” and has a “glassy-eyed” look.

Appears unconscious.

 Cry  Cries in an usual way at usual things.

The cry sounds whiny.

The child is difficult to comfort and whimpers off and on.

The child’s cry sounds weak.

The child continues to cry or moan even while being comforted.

 Activity level  The child plays and sleeps normally. The child is fussy when awake and sleeps more than usual. The child is hard to awaken and has little or no interest in playing.
 Appetite  The child asks for favorite foods and liquids. Also, eats and drinks the requested foods and liquids. The child takes liquids or food if offered, but only takes a few sips of liquid or a few bites of food. The child pushes away or refuses all food and liquids.
 Urination  The child’s urine is light yellow with the usual frequency. The child voids dark yellow urine less frequently than usual. The child has little saliva (spit) or less tears than usual when they cry and very little urine.

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References
WebMD: "7 Serious Symptoms in Babies and Toddlers." https://www.webmd.com/children/features/serious-symptoms-babies-toddlers

Riley Children's Health: "Sick Child Basics." https://www.rileychildrens.org/health-info/sick-child-basics

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