Cold and flu season can be especially hard on kids and parents. Torrance
Memorial pediatrician Rita Tenenbaum, MB, offers advice about when to
worry—and when not to.
Colds and flu can strike anyone at any time, of course, but these ailments
aren’t really equal opportunity. Some people are more vulnerable—especially
the very old and the very young. That makes this time of year particularly
nerve-wracking for parents. The Centers for Disease Control recommends
that everyone 6 months of age or older get an annual flu shot, ideally
shortly after the updated vaccine—which is specifically designed
to target each season’s strains—becomes available in October.
When kids do develop sneezing, sniffles or worse—the hint of a fever,
an upset tummy, aches and pains—it can be tough for a parent to
know when to keep their little one home from day care or school, as well
as when it’s time to head to the pediatrician, urgent care or even
the emergency room. The decision is especially fraught for moms and dads
whose jobs don’t allow for much or any sick time.
Dr. Rita Tenenbaum, MD, a pediatrician at the
Torrance Memorial Physician Network office in Hermosa Beach, to get her guidance for parents caring for a
First off, when should a child absolutely stay home from school or child care?
A child should stay home when he can’t keep up with his usual daily
activities because of fever, cough, diarrhea or vomiting. Keeping a child
at home for little things like a runny nose with no fever, a mild cough
or a mild sore throat is unnecessary as long as you teach your child good
hygiene like hand-washing and how to blow and wipe his nose so he doesn’t
get other children sick.
That said, follow the policy of your child’s school or day care about
whether or not mild illnesses are allowed. If your child has a rash, ask
your pediatrician to check him before sending him to school.
When would you advise a parent to take their child to the pediatrician?
If your child is acting out of character, or symptoms are stopping them
from doing what they like, or they cannot eat, it’s time to see
the doctor. Toddlers and babies should be seen when they have a fever
or rash, regardless of other symptoms.
But if your child is tolerating fluids (meaning he’s not throwing
them up) and eating and sleeping but still running a low-grade fever (100.4º
to 101º), it’s okay for you to simply keep an eye on him at
homefor a few days. If symptoms don’t improve, though, seek the
advice of your doctor.
When does a child need urgent medical attention?
An urgent care center is a good place for older children with a minor illness
or injury, such as a sprain or strain, irritated eyes or a sore throat,
especially when you can’t get in to see your regular pediatrician.
For kids under 2 years old, though, I recommend calling your pediatrician
and asking where your doctor wants your child to be seen. Any significant
head injury should be monitored in the emergency room, for example.
Are there signs to look for that indicate a child is okay to go to day
care or school?
If your child has no fever or other major symptoms associated with the
illness, she can return to all her regular activities comfortably and
she doesn’t need a special diet that the school or day care cannot
provide for her, she’s probably ready to go back. If, though, your
child is too weak to play or stay alert in class, that’s a sign
that she needs a bit more time at home.