Is my child sick?

Is my child sick?

Colds and fever are a normal part of childhood. Sometimes families worry about missing a more serious illness. Knowing your child and seeing a change in their behaviour could be the most important clue to how sick they are.

Key points to remember

  • if you are worried about your child, whether or not there is a fever, you should take them to your doctor
  • if your child is under 3 months old and you are worried about them, take them to your doctor - trust your instinct

Is my child very sick?

Healthy young children can have up to 12 colds or upper respiratory tract infections each year. These are a normal part of childhood. 

Sometimes families worry about missing a more serious illness. Knowing your child and seeing a change in their behaviour could be the most important clue to how sick they are.

What do you do if you think your child is sick?

If you are worried about your child, whether or not there is a fever, you should take them to your doctor.

You could:

  • call Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do
  • see your family doctor
  • go to an after-hours medical centre
  • dial 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries) for urgent medical help

You should stay calm and explain why you are worried about your child. 

If you are waiting to see your doctor and think that your child is getting sicker, calmly explain why you are worried.

If you have already seen a doctor but your child is getting worse, go back to your doctor. 

When should I seek help?

When should I dial 111?

Dial 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries) and ask for urgent medical help if your child:

  • has blue lips and tongue
  • has severe difficulty breathing
  • has any episodes of irregular or stopping breathing
  • has a worrying rash especially one that does not go away when you press on it (see a photo of a meningococcal rash)
  • is unconscious or you can't wake them up properly
  • has been in a serious accident

When should I see a doctor urgently?

You should see a doctor urgently if your child:

  • is under 3 months old - young babies need a different and more cautious approach
  • looks unwell and you are concerned
  • is very pale or feels cold to touch
  • is floppy, sleepy or drowsy
  • is becoming less responsive
  • has an unusual high-pitched cry
  • has trouble breathing, has noisy breathing or is breathing fast
  • complains of a stiff neck or light hurting their eyes
  • has a severe headache
  • refuses to drink - even small sips
  • is not doing wee
  • vomits a lot – and cannot keep sips of replacement drinks down
  • vomits green fluid (bile)
  • vomits blood – this may be red or brown or look like coffee grounds if it is not fresh
  • has black tar like poo or blood in their poo
  • is in severe pain
  • is not interested in surroundings (lethargic)

When should I see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if your child:

  • is under 3 months old - young babies need a different and more cautious approach 
  • has a sore throat or joint pains
  • is drinking less than half of their normal breastmilk or other fluid
  • is having fewer than 4 wet nappies in 24 hours
  • is doing wee that is very dark or has blood in it
  • vomited half or more of their feed for the last 3 feeds
  • has frequent and watery poo (diarrhoea)
  • complains or cries when doing wee
  • is in pain
  • is getting sicker
  • has a fever and is not improving after 2 days
  • has had a fever for more than 5 days

When is it OK to look after my child at home?

You can look after your child with a fever at home if they:

  • are drinking and feeding well
  • are still interacting with you
  • do not look sick

What about young babies?

Young babies (less than 3 months old) need a more cautious approach. If your child is under 3 months old and you are worried about them, take them to your doctor. Trust your instinct.

  • if they have a fever, always take them to your doctor
  • if you are worried about them, take them to your doctor even if they do not have a fever
  • some babies may have an unstable temperature with an infection - they may be colder than normal - in a sick infant this is a worrying sign and is a reason to see a doctor urgently
  • babies get fevers for the same reasons as older children, but they are not as good at fighting off infections

This page last reviewed 06 August 2018.
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