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5 Serious Symptoms in Children to Never Ignore

What to keep in mind if your child gets a very high temperature or other worrisome symptoms.

Widespread Rash

Don't be too concerned about a rash on your child's arm or feet; they're generally harmless. If the rash covers her entire body, though, examine it to see whether you should get medical attention.

“If you touch the red rash and it blanches or turns white, then you let go and it turns red again, you usually don't have to worry about it,” Sacchetti says. “Most of the virus rashes and allergic reactions, including hives, will do that.”

A non-blanching rash -small red or purple spots on the skin that don't change color when you press on them - can indicate a medical emergency such as meningitis or sepsis, particularly when accompanied by a fever. This type of rash can also appear on the face after violent bouts of coughing or vomiting, so it's not always a sign of something serious.

To be safe, any time your child has small red or purple non-blanching dots appear on a widespread area, it's best to seek emergency care at once, to rule out a more serious condition.

Another widespread rash which can be a medical emergency are hives which appear with lip swelling. Hives should be immediately treated with diphenyhadramine (Benadryl). If there is lip or facial swelling, the child must see a doctor. If your child's breathing is labored or your child complains about breathing, call 911 -- the symptoms suggest anaphylactic reaction, which is a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction.

Severe Stomach Bug

When your child has food poisoning or gastroenteritis (the so-called “stomach flu," though it has nothing to do with influenza), monitor how often they're throwing up or having diarrhea.

Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. If it is mild dehydration, your doctor may recommend giving electrolyte solutions at home, though treatment depends in part on the child's age. If your child seems to be getting worse (not voiding enough or acting sick), you should see your doctor.

Vomiting three times in an afternoon may not lead to dehydration, but eight bouts of diarrhea in eight hours probably will, as will a combination of vomiting with diarrhea. Dehydration needs to be closely monitored and sometimes needs emergency treatment.         

“If they're losing it below and not able to retain the ideal fluid from above, they may need some IV fluids or prescription medication to stop the vomiting,” Schmitt says. “The younger kids are at the greatest risk of dehydration.”

Stiff Neck

A stiff neck can indicate meningitis, a true medical emergency, so parents may panic if they see their child standing rigidly, refusing to look left or right. But a stiff neck by itself is rarely anything more than sore muscles.

“Look at a constellation of symptoms, not just one in isolation,” Brown says. “A stiff neck alone might mean you slept funny. Meningitis is a combination of fever with a stiff neck, light sensitivity and headache.”

A stiff neck with a fever might be tonsil inflammation, not meningitis; calling the pediatrician could ease your fears. Of course, if trauma caused a hurt neck, that's a clear reason to head to the ER.

Reviewed on July 02, 2012
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