How to Treat a Sick Toddler
Toddlers have amazing little health cycles; one minute they're happy and playing, and the next minute they're sick with a stomach virus or a terrible cough.
A toddler always seems to get ill suddenly, showing all of the signs and symptoms of a sickness within minutes. How can you treat a child so young? When should you call the doctor?
Learn how to treat your toddler when he or she becomes ill. Here you'll find remedies for the common cold, stomach virus, fevers, and the flu that are appropriate for children four years of age and younger.
Is My Toddler Sick?
How Do I Know if My Toddler is Sick?
First things first: do you know how to communicate with your toddler about an illness? Toddlers, especially those only one or two years of age, may not have the ability to tell you what is wrong with them when they are sick. How do you know then how to treat your toddler?
Most of the time, you need to be aware of your child's behavior and normal routine. Any sudden change in his or her behavior, such as being cranky or unpleasant, could be a sign that your child is ill. Also, be on the lookout for:
- excess sleepiness
- not wanting to play
- not wanting to eat
- crying after eating or drinking
- changes in urine or stool output
- changes in skin coloring (rosy cheeks, pale face, etc.)
These could all be signs that your child is suffering with an illness.
Of course, if your child is able to speak with words or short sentences, ask what is wrong or ask where in their body it hurts. For example, my daughter, at the age of two, is able to say "Ouch" and point to her stomach or head when she is not feeling well.
Cough Medicine for Kids
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Cold Remedies for Toddlers
A common cold can be defined as having the sniffles from a runny or stuffy nose, a cough, itchy or scratchy throat, congestion in the sinuses, watery eyes, sleepiness, and a low grade fever. For a toddler, these symptoms could be relatively minor and cause no major disruption in the day. At night, however, your toddler may experience more discomfort as he or she is laying down trying to sleep.
Here are some remedies for the common cold:
- Keep hydrating. Make sure your toddler is getting enough fluids during the day. It will help all of the secretions from the nasal passages and sinuses to stay thin so that they continue to come out without causing excess congestion.
- Offer honey for a scratchy throat. Honey is a natural remedy to soothe a sore throat. It gently coats the throat without having to use cough medicines which can be harmful for kids under the age of four. (Note: Only use honey for kids one year of age and older as the spores in honey can be harmful for young kids and babies.)
- Give a dose of acetaminophen. If your toddler has a low grade fever or is otherwise achy, it is okay to give a dose of acetaminophen to help with the fever or pain. Be sure to give the proper dosage and use the appropriate cups or dispensers for measuring the medicine.
- Use a humidifier. A cool mist humidifier in the bedroom at night is great for keeping the air moist to help your child breathe better. A warm, dry, stuffy room makes breathing more difficult as it can make congestion worse.
Cough Syrup for Toddlers
Giving cough syrup to toddlers is no longer recommended for children under the age of four. Children's cough syrup has been proven ineffective for kids younger than four and can sometimes lead to serious issues, which can then lead to death, especially for kids who have been given the wrong dosage or a mix of medicines with the same ingredient.
Bottom line: keep your little ones hydrated and offer them a teaspoon of honey if they are older than 1 year of age.
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Fevers in Toddlers
Call the Doctor?
Child shows other worrisome symptoms.
Fever reduces with medicine and does not reappear
Fever in Toddlers
A fever is defined as a spike in body temperature that indicates that the body is fighting some sort of infection. Not all fevers are serious; in fact with toddlers, most fevers are harmless and go away on their own.
The normal body temperature for most people is around 98.6°F. Any fluctuation in that could be a fever. For toddlers, a fever between 99°F and 101°F is usually nothing to worry about and can be treated with rest, plenty of fluids, and a lukewarm bath.
Once a toddler's fever spikes to about 102°F, it's time to worry a bit. At that point, it's safe to give your child the correct dosage of acetaminophen for his/her age and then monitor your child to see if the fever reduces. If the fever continues to increase despite the medicine or other tactics, call the doctor and ask to be seen.
With any fever, be on the lookout for extra symptoms that could accompany the fever, such as:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- stiff neck
- pain when urinating
These symptoms along with fever could point to other illnesses, such as strep throat, the flu, a urinary tract infection, or other infections. Be sure to tell your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms along with a fever.
Signs of Dehydration in Toddlers
If your child exhibits any of the following symptoms when suffering with a stomach virus, call your doctor:
- decreased urination
- eyes that appear sunken in
- extremely tired
- no tears when crying
- extremely thirsty
- dry, wrinkled, or discolored skin
Stomach Virus Remedies
Treat a Stomach Virus
Encourage drinking of water or electrolyte solution.
Encourage small amounts of healthy food.
Keep your toddler comfortable with some Tylenol.
How to Rehydrate Kids
- Keep Kids Hydrated When They Are Sick
Keep your kids hydrated when they're sick with DripDrop, Learn more and get a $2.00 coupon!
Stomach Virus in Toddlers
Toddlers seem to experience random bouts of stomach viruses. Until their little immune systems can handle all of the different kinds of bacteria they may come across in foods or on surfaces, they will suffer from various stomach viruses at least 2-3 times a year.
Your poor little one may suffer unexpected bouts of vomiting or diarrhea along with a mild fever when he or she experiences a stomach virus. The thing to worry about most with these kinds of stomach viruses is dehydration from the vomiting or diarrhea.
To treat a stomach virus with vomiting:
- Encourage small sips of water or an electrolyte solution. Avoid sodas, sugary drinks, or juice as it may make vomiting worse. Water or an electrolyte solution like Pedialyte is best to help replenish any lost fluids. Wait at least 15-20 minutes after vomiting to give any fluids as giving fluids too soon may make your child vomit once more.
- Give an appropriate dose of acetaminophen. A bit of Tylenol can help your toddler feel a bit better. Be aware that it could irritate the stomach, though.
- Keep a bucket, shopping bags, extra towels, paper towels, and spare sheets handy. When my kids get a stomach virus with vomiting, I line a bucket with a shopping bag and gather all necessary cleaning supplies so that I can clean up in minutes without having to go crazy trying to find everything. I place an old sheet or two on my couch and I place a few old towels on the floor. I place the bucket on top of the towels so that when my kids lie on the couch, it's nearby and ready. Often, a toddler will miss the bucket, but if you're nearby and ready, you can encourage them to vomit as much as they can in the bucket.
- When vomiting subsides, encourage your toddler to eat small amounts of food. Stick with complex carbohydrates like dry cereal or toast at first, and work your way back to the normal diet without fatty or greasy foods.
To treat a stomach virus with diarrhea:
- Encourage drinking, especially water or an electrolyte solution. Again, avoid sodas, sugary drinks, or juice as it may make diarrhea worse.
- Encourage small meals and snacks throughout the day. Keep the meals basic, without fatty or greasy foods.
- Keep a container of diaper rash cream handy. If your toddler is still in diapers, he or she may develop a rash from the diarrhea. Generously apply diaper rash cream to the diaper area to avoid or treat a rash.
Stomach viruses usually go away after a few days. To avoid the possibility that another family member in the house will get the virus, remember to regularly clean all surfaces with an anti-bacterial cleaning solution or wipes and to wash hands often, especially after caring for a sick toddler.
Did you have your kids vaccinated for the flu?
Treatment for the Flu
Small children are especially susceptible to the flu, for which symptoms include:
- Fever 101°F or higher
- Achy body
- Runny nose
If you notice these symptoms in your toddler, especially during the peak flu season between October and February, it's is most likely the flu and not just a cold. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do other than to treat the symptoms.
The best treatment for the flu is to keep your child comfortable with some pain reliever (acetaminophen) and to make sure he or she stays hydrated with plenty of fluids. Clear broth, and water are the best fluids to encourage and they may help with the congestion. If your child has an appetite, try some simple meals, not greasy or fatty foods. A lukewarm bath can help with the fever as well.
If you notice that the fever becomes higher or that other symptoms become worse (a cough that does not seem to improve, an earache, trouble breathing), call your doctor and ask to be seen. Also, call your doctor if you see any of the signs of dehydration (see the symptoms of dehydration above.)
Keep Toddlers Healthy
One of your goals as a parent is to keep your kids healthy. To accomplish this, remember to have your kids:
- Wash their hands after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, etc.
- Eat a well-balanced diet full of vegetables and fruit and healthy sources of protein
- Stay hydrated by drinking water, milk, or other healthy drinks
- Take a multi-vitamin to make up for any missed nutrients
- Get plenty of exercise
As their parent, you can be a good example by doing all of those things as well. Also, remember to regularly clean and sanitize surfaces that are touched often (door knobs, cabinet handles, etc.).
Have a healthy household!