As a parent, it can be challenging to identify when your child needs immediate medical attention. Yet, having knowledge of child health emergencies and knowing when to seek medical help is crucial and can be potentially life-saving. Here are six common child health emergencies that you need to know.
1. High Temperature
If your child has an oral or underarm temperature of 37.8 degrees Celsius or higher, they are running a fever. Here are some common causes of fever in children:
- Immunisations. Fever is a common side effect after vaccinations and usually lasts for one to two days.
- Viral infections, such as the common cold, influenza and gastroenteritis.
- Bacterial infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and pneumonia.
Take your child to a doctor immediately if your child:
- Is less than three months old
- Has a temperature higher than 40 degrees Celsius
- Has a prolonged fever that lasts more than three days
- Has accompanying symptoms like lethargy, poor appetite, breathlessness, pale or grey skin, bruising, constant crying and deliriousness
- Has a seizure
- Has poor fluid intake and decreased urine output
2. Meningitis rash
Meningitis rash can be an early sign of meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The most common cause of meningitis in children is a bacterial or viral infection that spreads to the cerebral spinal fluid.
Meningitis rash may begin as tiny, red pinprick spots that can develop into purple splotches or bruises. To identify meningitis rash, perform the meningitis glass test by pressing the side of a clear drinking glass firmly against the affected skin area. If the rashes under the glass do not fade or disappear, bring your child to the doctor immediately. If the spots fade after a few checks, it is unlikely to be meningitis. However, if you are still concerned, contact your doctor.
3. Floppy/unresponsive child
If your child is floppy and unresponsive, it can be a sign of serious illness, such as epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes seizures or periods of unusual behaviour. During a generalised seizure, which occurs on both sides of the brain, your child may suddenly go limp and lose consciousness. A child could also go pale and floppy during anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that could potentially be fatal.
In most cases, headaches in children are not a cause for concern. Children can develop migraines and tension headaches, just like adults. However, in some cases, headaches can be caused by serious underlying conditions like generalised anxiety disorder, infections and head trauma. See a doctor immediately if your child:
- Has worsening, or more frequent headaches
- Is roused from sleep due to headaches
- Started getting headaches after a head injury, such as suffering a blow on the head
- Has headaches accompanied by vomiting, visual changes, fever or neck pain
5. Allergic reactions
Allergic reactions develop when the immune system mistakes a substance as harmful. Common allergies include reactions to foods, medications and insect bites. During an allergic reaction, your child may develop one or a few of the following symptoms:
- Hives and itching on the skin
- Itching and swelling of the lips and/or tongue
- Tightness and itching of the throat
- Abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
If your child displays any of the above symptoms, seek emergency medical help immediately. This is to prevent the occurrence of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can be potentially fatal if untreated.
6. Gastrointestinal issues
Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, is a gut infection that commonly occurs in children. Symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhoea and vomiting.
If your child has persistent diarrhoea or vomiting accompanied by other symptoms like fever, decreased urine output and weakness, see a doctor immediately.