Taking care of a sick child can be stressful, especially when you do not know exactly what is ailing him or her. Parents are placed in a difficult situation between the fine line of taking precautions and overreacting.
However, local pediatricians say not to worry: parents play a key role in diagnosing a child and pave the road toward a speedy recovery.
Paducah pediatricians say that although symptoms can be nonspecific, parents' intuition is usually what makes the biggest difference. Dr. David Schell of Pediatric Group of Paducah said "Mothers know their child best, and even though they aren't sure (what is making them sick), they know they're acting differently."
Dr. Cynthia Bowman-Stroud of Paducah Family Medicine agrees that the observed behavior of the child is important.
"You should look at the child and see how they're behaving, like if they're fussy or cranky. You have to look at the child and know not to panic," she said.
Dr. John Cecil of The Cecil Clinic also emphasizes observation of the child and subduing anxiety as a parent. "The main thing is you look at the kid. Look at how fast they breath, how loud they are. Mothers are usually always right. Sometimes they overreact, but they know this kid," he said.
Appetite, fever, hydration, and playfulness are the key factors that parents should watch, according to doctors. Schell, Bowman-Stroud and Cecil all advised for the child to drink plenty of fluids in small, frequent amounts, and to take a pain reliever or fever reducer such as Tylenol, Motrin, and Ibuprofen. They suggested keeping an eye on their urination, making sure they go at least every 8 to 12 hours.
Doctors warned that fever isn't always a sign of illness. "Things that I tell parents about when to seek medical treatment is usually when the child has a fever of about 100.4 degrees," said Bowman-Stroud. "Sometimes their temperature will be 99.5, and it's technically not a fever. It may their normal temperature because it varies throughout the day."
Cecil also mentioned the inaccuracy of fevers. "The temperature isn't that helpful. Sometimes the temperature can be very high, and the child isn't sick, or there is no fever and they are," he said.
When you do seek medical treatment, doctors remind that some illnesses can not always be treated with antibiotics.
"If the physical exam is negative, it's probably more of a matter of observation," said Schell. "Let the child be the guide. If they want to move around and play, let them. It's different than with adults, who usually are put on bed rest."
Bowmen-Stroud and Cecil also suggest the possibility of a viral illness. All doctors agree that the child should return in two to three days if there is no improvement.
Overall, doctors agree that monitoring the child is important for diagnosing nonspecific illness and nursing him or her back to health. They advised for parents not to panic, and to not feel guilty for feeling like they may be overreacting.
"Don't worry!" Cecil said. "Don't feel bad if you feel like you overreact, and don't feel like you're bothering the doctor. He's there to teach you how to know (what is making your child sick)."
Contact Katie Paxton, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8655.