9 common symptoms children experience and how to treat them

While it can feel scary when parents have a sick child, doctors say these 9 symptoms are often best treated at home.
High Angle View Of Ill Boy Lying On Bed At Home
Another cold? Say it isn't so.Getty Images stock

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By Meghan Holohan

For many parents it seems as if their children are constantly sick. One month they have stuffy noses, the next it’s a high fever, then the following month they’re sleeping constantly. When they’re not battling a cold or virus they fall and hit their heads or scrape their knees.

It can be difficult to understand what symptoms are normal and which are worrisome. The experts share common symptoms that almost every child will experience and how to tackle them.

Stuffy nose

Children can have between six to eight upper respiratory infections a year, which means a lot of stuffy noses. Stuffy noses normally aren’t a huge problem and can be treated at home.

“Lots of parents get very worried about a baby or younger child having stuffy noses because kids have difficulty breathing throughout the night,” Dr. Lana Gagin, a pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told TODAY Parents.

There are a few easy remedies for stuffy noses. Parents can use saline nose drops (to thin the mucous and make it easier for the child to blow their nose (skip medicated nasal drops). Or, they can use a bulb to suction mucous from the nose.

“Parents have to provide some TLC at home, but it’s not a worrisome symptom,” Dr. Sarah Bode, medical director of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s school-based health and mobile clinics, told TODAY Parents.

Stomachache

Maybe a child eats too much over the holidays or wolfs down greasy fries. Now they’re complaining that their tummy aches. While they might feel awful, there’s little that can be done other than to wait.

“I would say if it's not causing them to stop doing things they like to do,” Bode said, ”you can just watch it.”

Diarrhea

Stomach bugs pop up a lot, with diarrhea occurring more than most parents and children would like.

“The most common cause of diarrhea is usually a virus but it could be a bacterial infection as well,” Gagin said.

Children with diarrhea can become dehydrated but most parents can still care for them at home.

“There's definitely not much that we offer at the doctor's office other than what you can do at home, which is giving them the bland diet,” Bode explained. “And having them drink more frequently in small amounts.”

A bland diet includes foods, such as bananas, rice, apples or toast, foods that will not irritate the stomach. Stomach ailments often feel like they last forever and parents shouldn’t worry if they stick around for a week.

Vomiting

Much like diarrhea, children often throw up. It’s gross, messy, upsetting and inconvenient, but still a normal symptom of infection, overeating or in serious cases a blockage.

“It happens when the body is fighting with a viral infection or bacterial infection,” Gagin said. “Also, it happens when the food cannot get through the digestive tract.”

There’s little doctors can do to treat vomit-causing viral or bacterial infections and they encourage parents to keep their children hydrated. At times like this, they might want to give their children something that has electrolytes in it.

“It is okay for children to not eat any solid for maybe the first 24 hours,” Gagin said. “(Most) vomiting will go away on its own.”

If the vomiting persists for more than a week, parents should call their pediatrician.

Headaches

Sometimes children play so hard they forget to drink enough water. Being dehydrated could cause their head to ache. Or they’re stressed out by homework and feel a throbbing in their temples. Other times, they might be coming down with something. Headaches can occur as frequently in children as in adults and over-the-counter medicines are often the best treatments.

“Helping the child to relax a little, then just making sure that they are getting some fluid,” Gagin said. “Some rest usually helps.”

If parents give something like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to children, they need to make sure they are using it as recommended and don’t accidentally provide too much. Using too much can cause rebound headaches, continuing a painful cycle.

Lethargy

Sometimes children sleep until noon or lounge on the couch on a sunny day. While it might seem as if they’re lazy, it could be they’re simply growing.

“There can be times where they are going through a growth spurt and they have less energy and they need more sleep,” Bode said. “As long as there are in between times where they are up and happy that is not very worrisome."

Bruises

Some children seem like they always have a bruised shin or arm. Most of the time playing too hard turns children black and blue.

“Kids are rough and tumble they bruise frequently,” Bode said. “Bruises that occur in the normal places, you can pretty much know that is the normal course of childhood.”

Fever

Fevers can signal the onset of all sorts of ailments, everything from teething to ear infection to a stomach bug. While a low-grade fever causes discomfort, they are not harmful unless they are over 102 degrees.

“Fever is one of the defenses that our body has. So if the body senses a viral or a bacterial infection, then the brain responds by elevating the body's temperature,” Gagin said.

Over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen, help reduce fevers. If a fever reaches 102 degrees or persists for five days, parents should call their pediatrician.

Dizziness

Sometimes children say they see stars or feel dizzy. Often this occurs when a child jumps up suddenly, isn’t drinking enough water or is experiencing their periods.

“If they seem better there’s nothing to worry about,” Bode said.