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When Should A Child Stay Home Sick?

When Should A Child Stay Home Sick?

Cold and flu season can be especially hard on kids and parents. Torrance Memorial pediatrician Rita Tenenbaum, MB, offers advice about when to worry—and when not to.

Colds and flu can strike anyone at any time, of course, but these ailments aren’t really equal opportunity. Some people are more vulnerable—especially the very old and the very young. That makes this time of year particularly nerve-wracking for parents. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older get an annual flu shot, ideally shortly after the updated vaccine—which is specifically designed to target each season’s strains—becomes available in October.

When kids do develop sneezing, sniffles or worse—the hint of a fever, an upset tummy, aches and pains—it can be tough for a parent to know when to keep their little one home from daycare or school, as well as when it’s time to head to the pediatrician, urgent care or even the emergency room. The decision is especially fraught for moms and dads whose jobs don’t allow for much or any sick time.

Dr. Rita Tenenbaum, MD, a pediatrician at the Torrance Memorial Physician Network office in Hermosa Beach, to get her guidance for parents caring for a sick child.

First off, when should a child absolutely stay home from school or child care?

A child should stay home when he can’t keep up with his usual daily activities because of fever, cough, diarrhea or vomiting. Keeping a child at home for little things like a runny nose with no fever, a mild cough or a mild sore throat is unnecessary as long as you teach your child good hygiene like hand-washing and how to blow and wipe his nose so he doesn’t get other children sick.

That said, follow the policy of your child’s school or daycare about whether or not mild illnesses are allowed. If your child has a rash, ask your pediatrician to check him before sending him to school.

When would you advise a parent to take their child to the pediatrician?

If your child is acting out of character, or symptoms are stopping them from doing what they like, or they cannot eat, it’s time to see the doctor. Toddlers and babies should be seen when they have a fever or rash, regardless of other symptoms.

But if your child is tolerating fluids (meaning he’s not throwing them up) and eating and sleeping but still running a low-grade fever (100.4º to 101º), it’s okay for you to simply keep an eye on him at home for a few days. If symptoms don’t improve, though, seek the advice of your doctor.

When does a child need urgent medical attention?

An urgent care center is a good place for older children with a minor illness or injury, such as a sprain or strain, irritated eyes or a sore throat, especially when you can’t get in to see your regular pediatrician. For kids under 2 years old, though, I recommend calling your pediatrician and asking where your doctor wants your child to be seen. Any significant head injury should be monitored in the emergency room, for example.

Are there signs to look for that indicate a child is okay to go to daycare or school?

If your child has no fever or other major symptoms associated with the illness, she can return to all her regular activities comfortably and she doesn’t need a special diet that the school or daycare cannot provide for her, she’s probably ready to go back. If, though, your child is too weak to play or stay alert in class, that’s a sign that she needs a bit more time at home.