Pediatrician advises when to take children to doctor or ER for respiratory illnesses

Although you can't protect your child from every illness, doctors say prevention can make a big difference.

Kate Nemarich Image
Thursday, December 21, 2023

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The most wonderful time of the year might also be the most contagious.

Respiratory viruses are on the rise, and as a parent, you may wonder if and when your sick child needs to see a doctor or visit an emergency room.

Hospital representatives at Valley Children's have seen a 17% increase in patients coming into the emergency department since Thanksgiving, with more than 330 patients in the department each day.

Most of those of those patients have respiratory illnesses.

While Sniffling, sneezing, and coughing are familiar sounds during the winter months, those sounds coming from kids can be concerning for parents, especially parents of infants or small children who can't describe how they're feeling.

Dr. Krishna Siruguppa said respiratory illnesses are usually viral, meaning antibiotics can't be prescribed, so most cases can be treated at home.

He suggests a "less is more" approach. Suctioning your baby's nose can be helpful, and if they have a fever, use an appropriate dose of Tylenol.

"So we have actually seen," said Dr. Siruguppa. "Sometimes, like babies, come in with an overdose of Tylenol because they are not aware of how much Tylenol to give. So it is very important, and usually, as the pediatrician is a very good resource on how much Tylenol to give."

Staying hydrated is also critically important.

For babies too young for water, feed on demand to ensure they're staying hydrated and monitor how often you're changing their diaper.

He doesn't suggest using over-the-counter remedies.

"For all these cough medicines, cold medicines, they are usually not effective, especially in children, and they might actually cause harm rather than doing any benefit," said Dr. Siruguppa.

Humidifiers can be helpful, as long as filters are clean, but he said don't put essential oils in the machines because that can cause more irritation. Trust your intuition.

He said if your child is behaving differently, like not eating or sleeping a lot more, or their symptoms worsen or continue past five days, you should call your pediatrician, and they can advise you further.

"Fevers not going away with by giving Tylenol, the fevers kept coming back, and they are pretty high fevers, especially 102, 103, 104, that is not normal, and the difficulty breathing in addition to breathing fast," said Siruguppa.

He said if your infant is taking more than 50 breaths per minute or pulling their ribs in farther when inhaling, that indicates they're struggling to breathe, and you should seek care.

If your child becomes unresponsive or stops breathing, that's when you call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Although you can't protect your child from every illness, Dr. Siruguppa said prevention can make a big difference: washing your hands, using hand sanitizers, getting vaccinated, and RSV antibodies for infants.

A lot of the advice goes for older children as well, if they're not eating, having a harder time breathing, and their fever lasts more than five days, visit your doctor.

If they're unresponsive or stop breathing, call 911.

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