Children are constantly bumping into objects, falling over or catching minor illnesses, this is all part of childhood and in fact helps to build up their immune system to brace them for later life. The confusion among parents is how to know if your child is suffering with something that needs more serious medical attention.
As with most medical conditions, early diagnosis is essential to both beating and stabilising the condition, which is why it is so important to educate yourself on the early warning signs and keep an eye on anything that doesn’t seem right.
Here Dr Ahmed Massoud, Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Endocrinologist at The Harley Street Clinic, part of HCA UK, offers his expert advice on the particular red flags and warning signs to look out for.
Dr Ahmed Massoud says: ‘Most parents are aware that a high temperature is associated with illness. All children get a fever from time to time and for the most part it isn’t an indication of anything serious. In fact, in most cases it is due to a viral infection and is generally a good thing – indicating that the body is fighting the infection.
If your child is upset, sweaty, hot, flushed and visibly unwell, it’s easy to worry about the possible causes. There are several relatively harmless reasons that your child may have a fever, such as:
- Infection: Most fevers are caused by infection or other illness. A fever helps the body to fight infection by stimulating the body’s natural defence mechanisms.
- Overdressing: Infants do not have the capacity to regulate their body temperature as well as older children or adults, so if they are over bundled or in a hot environment this can lead to a fever.
- Immunisations: Baby’s and children can sometimes get a light fever after vaccination.
When is a fever a sign of something more serious? If an infant 3 months or younger has a rectal or oral temperature of 38°C or higher, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.
In a child beyond 3 months, a rectal or oral temperature of 38°C or higher may still be a concern however, if that child is otherwise behaving normally you should call the doctor to ask their opinion before seeking emergency medical attention. If the child is visibly distressed or unwell, experiencing a rash, irregular breathing or has become confused, along with a fever of 38°C or above, you should take them to an emergency care centre without hesitation.”
Dr Ahmed Massoud says: “1.1 million children in the UK have asthma, that’s about 1 child in every 11. Asthma attacks can be fatal, and the condition should be taken very seriously. However, once diagnosed and the appropriate treatment is in place, it is very easy to live with and manage. You should stay aware of warning signs such as wheezing, consistent coughing and shortness of breath for an extended period. If you do pick up on any of these symptoms, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.
As well as asthma, unusual breathing behaviour can be an indication of other conditions such as respiratory tract infections, lung conditions and even sepsis. Babies who are having trouble breathing often inhale and exhale very quickly and the middle of their chest may look as though it’s sinking in. If you can see a space between the infant’s ribs being pulled in with every breath, then you should seek help at an emergency care centre.”
Dr Ahmed Massoud says: “Along with a temperature, most parents are very aware of the medical conditions associated with an unexplained rash. A rash is a reaction of the skin and it can be caused by many things such as an infection, an allergic reaction, a drug reaction or contact to a skin irritant. reaction. While a rash of any type should be treated with caution, today’s comprehensive vaccination programme for children make it unlikely that any rash concerned will be life-threatening or a danger to your child’s long-term health.
With that said, it’s still important that you are aware of the unique symptoms associated with the more serious causes of a childhood rash, so that you know how and when to act should they ever occur:
- Impetigo: This usually begins as small superficial blisters that rupture, leaving red, open patches of itchy skin caused by certain bacteria, often found around the nose and mouth. Impetigo is highly contagious and easily spread to other parts of the body or other people. It is rarely a serious disease, but most cases will need prescription antibiotics to help it clear up.
- Scarlet Fever: This is essentially a strep throat or other strep infection with a characteristic rash most commonly seen in school aged children in the winter and early spring. While a strep infection/scarlet fever is very contagious, the rash associated with the condition is not. Symptoms of Scarlet Fever begin as a sore throat, fever, headache, upset stomach and swollen glands, then one to two days following these symptoms, the child will develop a rash on the body that is red and has sandpaper-like roughness. You should seek medical advice if you suspect your child might have scarlet fever as antibiotic treatment will be needed.
- Chickenpox: Most children will contract chickenpox at some stage in their adolescence – having the disease at some point in childhood is in fact favourable to not having it at all as once you have the condition it’s unlikely that you’ll get it again. The early symptoms are often a sore throat and fatigue, which are soon followed by an intensely itchy, dry red spots that typically begins on the head and torso then spreads towards the arms and legs. The spots become fluid filled, blister and rupture which leads to scabbing. It usually gets better within a week or two without needing to visit a GP.
- Measles: This condition usually starts with a fever, sore eyes that are sensitive to light and grey spots inside the cheeks. After a few days, a red or brown rash appears on the head or neck and spreads to the rest of the body. You should visit a GP if you think your child may have measles.
- Meningitis: Perhaps the most worrying potential cause of a rash for parents is meningitis. It’s important to stress that if you are in any way concerned that you could be dealing with meningitis you should go to the nearest emergency care centre without hesitation. For clarity, if the rash you’re concerned about doesn’t fade when you press the side of a glass firmly against the skin then this could be a symptom of meningitis and you should seek medical advice right away. Other symptoms include high temperature, feeling and being sick, irritability, fatigue, shaking, aching muscles and joints, irregular breathing, confusion, stiffness as well as unusually cold feet and hands.”
Dr Ahmed Massoud says: “If your child has diarrhoea or is vomiting, it is probably due to common ailments such as a stomach virus or food poisoning. As a general rule, if your child’s vomiting and/or diarrhoea is accompanied by any of the following symptoms it may be indicative of a larger issue such as labyrinthitis, salmonella, allergy problems, malnutrition or sepsis. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, you should either seek medical advice or go straight to the nearest accident and emergency department.
- Has been vomiting repetitively/unable to keep any fluids down
- Is not urinating
- Is emotionally inconsolable
- A high fever
- Blood in the diarrhoea or vomit
- Sunken eyes
- Shaking uncontrollably
- A rash of any form”
Dr Ahmed Massoud says: “As a parent, you know your child’s behaviour and body better than anyone. It’s likely that your intuition would tell you if something were wrong before any symptoms might. Trusting your gut is all part of being a parent. Sometimes serious illnesses won’t rear their heads in the way that I’ve described previously but may occur in changes that perhaps only a parent would notice to begin with.
Behavioural changes are usually just a part of growing up but if you notice that a child who was once happy, smiley and friendly has become increasingly irritable, angry and even aggressive for no apparent reason you should look to seek medical advice.
Children are constantly having accidents and hurting themselves, but you should stay mindful of any unexplained bruising, lumps and swelling, especially if they are accompanied by fatigue, paleness, ongoing pain, limping, headaches and unexplained weight loss – it is always better to be safe than sorry.”
For more information contact HCAUK@thephagroup.com / 020 7025 1363
About The Harley Street Clinic
- The Harley Street Clinic is a specialist private cardiac, cancer and neurosciences Hospital providing complex care to adults, children and babies. Supported by HCA International which in turn is owned by HCA Inc, the largest provider of private healthcare in the world, the Hospital has received multi-million pounds in investment and this has attracted leading specialists from major London teaching hospitals who are in turn supported by a full team of caring, experienced and professional clinical staff.
About HCA Healthcare UK
- HCA Healthcare UK is the country’s largest provider of privately funded healthcare, with 800,000 patient interactions every year. From complex and urgent care, to primary care, outpatient and day-case treatment, we provide expert medical care across our network of hospitals, outpatient facilities and NHS partnerships.
- HCA Healthcare UK includes London Bridge Hospital, The Portland Hospital, The Harley Street Clinic, The Lister Hospital, The Princess Grace Hospital, The Wellington Hospital, Roodlane Medical Ltd, and Blossoms Healthcare. HCA UK also partner with leading NHS Trusts to provide care at The Christie Private Care, HCA UK at University College Hospital and Private Care at Guy’s.
- In 2017 HCA UK invested £50m in its cancer network in London; £38.2m London Bridge Hospital, Private Care at Guy’s and the £12m HCA UK at Sydney Street, an outpatients and diagnostics centre in Chelsea.