Sick Kids

Sick Kids: When to Stay Home & When to Seek Medical Care

As a parent, one of the most challenging aspects of caring for your child is determining when they are simply unwell and when their condition warrants a trip to the doctor or even the emergency room. It’s a delicate balance, and the decision can be fraught with anxiety. 

The following are some of the common childhood illnesses and symptoms, helping you understand when it’s appropriate to keep your child at home and when it’s time to seek medical care. 

Common Childhood Illnesses

Before we dive into when to stay home and when to seek medical care, it’s crucial to have a general understanding of some common childhood illnesses.

Common Cold

The common cold, with symptoms like a runny nose, cough, and mild fever, is typically a mild illness. Most children can be cared for at home with plenty of rest and fluids.

Influenza (Flu)

Influenza is a more severe respiratory illness with symptoms like high fever, body aches, and fatigue. If your child has the flu, it’s usually advisable to consult a healthcare provider, especially if they are very young, have underlying health conditions, or the symptoms worsen.

Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

Stomach flu can cause vomiting and diarrhea. In most cases, it resolves on its own with rest and rehydration. However, if severe symptoms persist or your child can’t keep fluids down, seek medical attention.

Ear Infections

Ear infections can be painful. Mild cases might be managed at home with over-the-counter pain relievers, but persistent or severe ear pain requires a doctor’s evaluation.

Strep Throat

Strep throat, caused by bacteria, can lead to a severe sore throat and fever. A healthcare provider should diagnose and treat strep throat with antibiotics.

When to Stay Home

There are several scenarios when it’s generally safe to keep your child at home for care:

Mild Cold or Allergies

If your child has a mild cold, runny nose, or seasonal allergies, they can often be managed at home. Ensure they rest, stay hydrated, and use over-the-counter remedies as directed.

Low-Grade Fever

A low-grade fever is typically not cause for concern. Encourage rest, and fluids, and provide fever-reducing medication if recommended by your healthcare provider.

Mild Cough

A mild cough without other severe symptoms can often be managed at home. Ensure your child gets plenty of rest and stays hydrated.


In cases of mild diarrhea, you can manage your child’s symptoms at home by ensuring they stay hydrated and providing a bland diet. However, seek medical care if diarrhea is severe, persists for more than a few days, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms.


Mild vomiting might be due to various causes, including stomach viruses. Ensure your child stays hydrated, and if vomiting persists or is severe, consult a healthcare provider.

When to Seek Medical Care

Certain symptoms and conditions require immediate medical attention:

High Fever

If your child has a high fever (usually above 104°F or 40°C), it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider, especially if the fever persists for more than a couple of days.

Severe Difficulty Breathing

If your child experiences severe breathing difficulties, blue lips, or wheezing, seek emergency medical care.


Signs of dehydration include sunken eyes, dry mouth, significantly reduced urine output, and lethargy. If your child appears dehydrated, consult a healthcare provider for proper evaluation and rehydration.

Severe Pain

Persistent and severe pain, such as a severe earache, might require immediate medical attention. In such cases, consult a healthcare provider.

Head Injury

If your child sustains a head injury, even a mild one, and experiences symptoms like persistent vomiting, confusion, or loss of consciousness, seek emergency medical care.

Trust Your Instincts

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. If your instincts tell you that something is seriously wrong, it’s crucial to trust your judgment and seek medical care. Never hesitate to call your healthcare provider or visit the emergency room if you have concerns about your child’s health.

Preventative Measures

Preventing illness is often the best approach. Encourage your child to wash their hands regularly, maintain a balanced diet, get adequate sleep, and keep up with vaccinations. Staying current on vaccinations can help protect your child from various serious diseases.


Caring for a sick child can be a stressful and worrisome experience. However, with a better understanding of common childhood illnesses and the signs that indicate it’s time to seek medical care, you can make more informed decisions. Remember that this information is a general guideline, and it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice and treatment. Your child’s health and well-being should always be the top priority, and it’s perfectly okay to seek professional guidance when in doubt. Always consult with a healthcare provider before making any decision.