DR. MOM: What to do when your child gets sick?

dr.mom1What is a mom to do when the child gets sick in the wee hour, plus what to keep in the medicine cabinet (and the Dopp kit)–and when to call the doctor?.


Why does your Child’s fever or cough always strike on a weekend, and seems so much scarier at 4:30 A.M.? Sickness in the middle of the night can seem harder to deal with, because it’s disorienting. It’s dark, no one else is awake; doctor’s offices aren’t open–so you feel more helpless and on your own. Sheer exhaustion, especially for parents of small babies, adds to the confusion. To help you and your child through those murky predawn hours, we asked some doctors (all moms or dads of course!) for advice on how to soothe and treat five common conditions.



The fever itself isn’t the worry. It’s a sign the body is responding to an illness, such as the flu. Don’t panic if the number is high: Even temperatures of 104 degrees and higher usually aren’t associated with brain damage.

how to treat it–Talk to your doctor about trying a natural fever reducer. A high fever can take as long as two to three hours to come down, but you’ll often see some response–and your child will feel a lot better–within half an hour. If natural remedies are not addressing the fever, you might need to use ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but try Nature’s way first.

when to call the doctor–If a fever reducer hasn’t worked after a few hours or your child is very uncomfortable–for instance, he has difficulty breathing, is unresponsive, shows signs of confusion, or has a stiff neck or a severe headache–call a doctor. And if your newborn (under 3 months old) has a fever of 100.4 or higher (taken rectally for the greatest accuracy), go to the emergency room; it could be a sign of meningitis.


Most coughs in kids are from postnasal drip [when mucus runs down and irritates the back of the throat] from a cold, rather than an infection in the lungs. It it’s a barky cough, it’s probably croup, an infection of the upper airway and voice box, but not the lungs.

how to treat them–The most common type of croup is viral, so antibiotics won’t treat it. Put a humidifier in the bedroom, or run the shower and sit in the steamy bathroom for a few minute with your child. As for coughs, the FDA recommends that children under 2 not take any over-the-counter cough medicines. Try treating sinus congestion with a saline nasal wash (try for naturals).

when to call the doctor–Call if you see signs of labored breathing, wheezing, skin sucking in above and below ribs, chest pain. If your child is leaning forward and still not getting air, go to the ER.


Vomiting can be caused by many things, including viral stomach infections and bladder infections.

how to treat them–Guard against dehydration. Once vomiting has subsided, give toddlers a teaspoon of water, Pedialyte, or Liquilyte every 15 minutes. Try giving bigger kids a little more, up to three ounces. If you have Gatorade on hand, that’s okay too, as long as you mix it with an equal amount of water because of the sugar content. Flat ginger is acceptable in a pinch. We love chamomile, ginger, and especially peppermint teas to soothe upset stomachs.

when to call the doctor–If your child has severe pains, especially in the lower right of the stomach–or if that area feels rigid and hot–it could be appendicitis, and you should call a doctor. Ditto if your child can’t even keep small amounts of fluid down, if he vomits for longer than 24 hours, or if there’s blood or bile (a yellowish green fluid) in the vomit. Blood could mean a small tear in the intestine that will heal on its own, and bile can be a sign of bowel obstruction. Either way, a doctor needs to evaluate the child.


Common causes are diets (lots of fiber, too much juice), an inability to digest certain foods (such as lactose), infection, and gallbladder disease.

how to treat it–As with vomiting, you want to protect against dehydration: Replenish the fluids they’ve lost with Pedialyte, Liquilyte, or equal parts Gatorade and water. While antidiarrheal medications like Children’s Immodium are okay to give to much older kids, if they’ve recovering and don’t have a fever but have lingering diarrhea (to help them get back on a regular schedule), they’re not recommended for kids younger than 3. Try changing you child’s diet to starchy foods, bananas, and rice for the duration. To give kids antidiarrheal to stop the diarrhea is not recommended, rather get rid of the infection that’s causing it!

when to call the doctor–Get medical attention if there’s blood in the diarrhea. It could be a sign of bacterial infection. Call as well if your child is especially sluggish or too weak to take fluids–she may be severely dehydrated.


An earache can be painful for a child and harrowing for a parent. Your child might writhe in pain and act unusually cranky, but it’s rarely a medical emergency, so you can wait until the morning to have it looked at.

how to treat it–Make sure your child is comfortable. Give a pain reliever, and place a warm washcloth or hot-water bottle over the ear. You can try numbing ear drops or mullein- or garlic-oil drops, but don’t use them on a ruptured eardrum. Keep in mind that 80% of all ear infections go away without antibiotics, opt to go without for as long as your child can tolerate it, as only antibacterial infections respond to drugs–viral one’s won’t.

when to call the doctor–If there’s blood or pus (signs of a rupture), call the doctor in the morning. If you see signs that the infection has spread–the area behind the ear is red or swollen if the child has a fever–call the doctor right away.