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Prevent a Failure to Diagnose Your Sick Child: 5 Dangerous Symptoms

If you have an infant or a young child, sickness can be so common it’s frustrating. But what if the doctor you rely on to diagnose and treat those childhood sicknesses makes a serious mistake? Failure to diagnose illness correctly is far too common, so it’s good to have some basic information of your own so you can ask good questions if a diagnosis seems wrong to you.

Here are some symptoms infants and small children exhibit that could indicate a serious illness — or could be worrying you more than they deserve:

A stiff neck with no other symptoms, or only with fever, is probably not dangerous. Combined with fever and rigidity, however, it could indicate meningitis, a life-threatening inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Specific symptoms of meningitis in young children include standing rigidly, refusing to look left or right, light sensitivity, headache and fever.

A really bad headache that causes neurological symptoms like blurred vision, confusion or difficulty walking, or one bad enough that it keeps your child from eating, playing or enjoying ordinary activities, requires immediate evaluation at an emergency room. Most headaches are caused by tight muscles in the neck and scalp and aren’t dangerous, but if it goes on for several hours and doesn’t respond to children’s pain relievers, call your doctor.

An expansive rash that covers a large portion of your child’s body could be serious. Most rashes are limited to the area of exposure to an allergen and aren’t dangerous. If the rash seems big, however, press on it. If the skin doesn’t change color and the rash looks like small red or purple spots, it’s time to go to the doctor immediately.

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A high fever, which for children over age 1 is higher than 101F, might or might not be an emergency. Kids over age 1 often don’t even need a fever-reducer if their fever is 100F or lower. Infants under 1 with high fevers, or older kids with fevers higher than 101F that don’t respond to a fever reducer do need a doctor’s intervention.

Too much vomiting or diarrhea might indicate a serious illness, and it could cause dehydration severe enough to require IV fluids. Keep track of how much your child is vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. If it’s more than three or four times a day, consider calling the doctor.

Remember, you know your child’s behavior better than any medical professional. If something is worrying you, speak up. Don’t let a medical professional’s failure to diagnose your child’s illness make it worse.

Source:, “Sick kid? Never ignore these 5 symptoms,” Dr. Art Mollen, June 4, 2013