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Does My Child Need a Doctor?

ASK THE PEDIATRICIAN First-time parents often feel vulnerable when their young child is sick. They wonder when to take their child to see the pediatrician—or when staying home is the best course of action. Pulse asked Alice Diego-Malit, MD, vice chief of pediatrics and chairperson of the Pediatrics Process Improvement Committee at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, to present a guideline parents can follow.

My child has a cold or flu like symptoms. When should I call the doctor or take him or her to be checked?

In general, how the child is feeling is more significant than the temperature on the thermometer. The common cold generally lasts no longer then 10 to 14 days, with symptoms worse in the first five days. If symptoms last longer and are not improving, or secondary symptoms develop such as a severe headache or eye swelling, then the child should see the doctor.

What temperature level is considered worrisome?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends visiting your pediatrician for temperatures higher than 100.4º for infants younger than three months of age and higher than 104º for a child of any age. However, a high temperature alone is not a gauge for how sick a child may be. A child with a high temperature who is acting normally, exhibiting energy and is interactive might simply need rest, plenty of liquids and a fever reducer, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Aspirin is not recommended for children.) A child with or without a temperature who appears listless, not interactive, has difficulty breathing or has a significant decrease in appetite with decreased urinary output should be seen by a doctor immediately.

If my child is complaining of an earache or a sore throat, should I take them in?

Earaches can be a sign of an ear infection and should be seen by a pediatrician. A mild sore throat, unaccompanied by fever or body aches, may be part of a viral syndrome. If symptoms worsen or the child develops more symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, headaches or body rash, they should be evaluated. Most importantly, follow your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right with your child and he or she is not acting like their normal self, take them to see the pediatrician. Often, parents have insight about their children that no one else has. Trusting those instincts can save a life!


For more information about when to take your child to the doctor, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website at healthychildren.org.

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