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When to Take Your Child to the Doctor (and When You Can Treat Them at Home)

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Disclaimer: This post is written by our contributor, Amanda, who is a Physician’s Assistant. This is a generalized overview of medical symptoms, but please always contact your child’s own medical professional. The advice here is not intended to provide a diagnosis, but to provide general awareness.

“When should I take my child to the doctor?” It’s one of the hardest questions for parents to figure out. As a PA I hear parents ask me all the time. They say, “I don’t want to overreact.”, but at the same time they don’t want to miss something important. Here is what I tell my patients as a guideline of when to treat at home and when to go to the doctor.

When to take your child to the doctor, and when you can treat them at home!

1. Fever

  • Treat at home when fevers are low (99 or 100F) or come down quickly with Tylenol or Ibuprofen and not many other symptoms.
  • Go to the doctor when fevers are high (104 of 105 F) and won’t come down with Tylenol or Ibuprofen or if the child is pulling at ears or in some type of pain (abdominal pain, hurts to cough, body aches, etc.) especially if it’s strep or flu season.
2. Sore throat
  • Treat at home when sore throat is associated with mild nasal congestion.
  • Go to the Doctor when fever or rash develops or when sore throat is the only symptom. They need to be tested for strep.
3. Vomiting
  • Treat at home when there are only a couple of episodes of vomiting in a short period of time.
  • Go to the Doctor when abdominal pain or high fever develops or child becomes dehydrated and can’t retain any fluids.
4. Cough
  • Treat at home when cough is mild and causes no trouble breathing, especially when associated with some nasal congestion.
  • Go to the Doctor when there is trouble breathing, retractions (you can see all the child’s ribs when they breath), or stridor (a harsh vibrating noise when breathing) or wheeze (whistling or rattling sound in the chest).
5. Joint or Bone pain
  • Treat at home when child can move the joint without much difficulty.
  • Go to the doctor when the child can’t move the joint or the joint looks distorted.
6. Cuts
  • Treat at home when bleeding stops quickly and there is not any gapping of the skin.
  • Go to the doctor when the cut is large, won’t stop bleeding, or is open and won’t close easily.
7. Red eyes
  • Treat at home when there’s no eye drainage or discharge and the child has other symptoms of allergies like sneezing, running nose, and mild cough.
  • Go to the Doctor when child wakes up with eyes matted shut in the morning or discolored eye drainage or trouble seeing.

I hope this helps give you some guidelines on what you can treat at home or when to go to the doctor. If some of these things still aren’t getting better in 48 hrs or suddenly gets worse then you would need to be evaluated by a doctor, but at least this can be a starting point for you!

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