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When Your Child Is Sick

Having a sick child is one of the most stressful times you will have as a parent. Babies and young children can't always tell you when they aren't feeling well. Watching your child's behaviour can usually let you know when something is wrong.

 

Table of Contents

Watch your child’s behaviour for:

  • Changes in sleep (unusual waking up at night or sleeping more during the day)
  • Changes in cry (crying more or differently, not easily comforted)
  • Changes in eating (eating or drinking less, or refusing)
  • Changes in activity (no energy or interest for play, lethargic)
  • Changes in mood (clingy, whiny)

Your child may also show physical changes when they are sick. See When to Call the Doctor for more information.  

 

Telephone Support

To speak with a Public Health Nurse from the Middlesex-London Health Unit, please call 519-663-5317.

  • Monday to Friday
  • 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Telephone questions after regular business hours

Call Telehealth Ontario to speak with a Registered Nurse at 1-866-797-0000; or TTY: 1-866-797-0007.

  • Free, confidential service you can call to get health advice or information
  • 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Available in English or French
 

Colds and Influenza

The “common cold” is caused by a virus (germs) that can make us sick.  Young children and babies haven’t built up immunity or defenses against all the different cold germs that are around, so they can get as many as 8-10 colds a year before they even turn 2 years old.1  Children can pass germs to each other by touching hands, sharing toys, and even through the air.

Some symptoms of colds include:

  • Runny or stuffed-up nose and sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Mild sore throat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue, and
  • Mild fever2

A cold will usually go away on its own, after about a week, but it can last as long as two weeks.  Try to keep your child comfortable and offer lots of fluids as well as small, nutritious meals during this time.

The flu (also known as influenza) is a respiratory infection that is caused by a virus.  People of any age can get influenza.  Most people are sick for 2 to 7 days, although coughing may last for weeks.  Influenza causes high fevers with a cough and body aches. It comes on faster and makes people feel worse than the common cold.  Kids with colds usually still have enough energy to play and keep their normal daily routines, but children with the flu virus are usually in bed.3

Please contact your Health Care Provider if you have concerns.


Constipation

Regular bowel movements vary from child to child.  Some children go more than once a day, while others may go once every few days.  Both are normal as long as the stool is soft and easy to pass.4

Signs of Constipation:

  • Passing stool less often than normal
  • Hard, dry, difficult or painful to pass
  • Stool is unusually large for your child4

For more information, go to our own MLHU Fact Sheet: Bowel Habits for Babies & Children.  Please contact your Health Care Provider if you have concerns.


Ear Infections (Otitis Media)

Ear infections are very common, especially in children 6 months – 3 years old.  They often happen at the same time as a cold.

Here are some signs:

  • Fever with unknown cause
  • Fussy behaviour and/or difficulty sleeping
  • Pulling or poking at ears 
  • Trouble hearing quiet sounds
  • Drainage or discharge from the ear itself5

For more information, go to Canadian Pediatric Society- Ear infections. Please contact your Health Care Provider if you have concerns.


Vomiting, Diarrhea, & Dehydration

Dehydration is a loss of body fluids, which can happen if a sick child has vomited and/or had diarrhea several times. Dehydration can be very dangerous, especially for babies and small children. Sometimes healthy children have “spit-ups” or “loose” stools once in a while without being in any danger of getting dehydrated.

Signs of Dehydration:

  • Less than 4 wet diapers in 24 hours with infants, and no urine for 8 hours in older kids
  • Urine will be dark yellow, orange, or tea coloured
  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth, tongue, no tears when crying
  • Decreased energy, lethargic, weak or limp, drowsy
  • Sunken eyes or sunken soft spot on baby’s head (fontanelle)
  • Grayish coloured skin6

For more information, go to Canadian Pediatric Society- Dehydration and diarrhea in children. Contact your Health Care Provider if you have concerns.

For more information about other common infections, please review the Health Unit's Guide to Common Infections (PDF 2.4MB).
 
Date of creation: December 12, 2012
Last modified on: April 27, 2020
 
 

References

1Canadian Paediatric Society. (2016). Colds in Children. Retrieved from
http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/colds_in_children
3About Kids Health. (2019). Influenza (Flu): An Overview Retrieved from
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/HealthAZ/ConditionsandDiseases/InfectiousDiseases/Pages/Influenza-Flu.aspx