When to call the doctor
It can be very distressing when your child becomes ill. As mothers become more experienced, they become better at distinguishing between minor ailments and more serious illnesses. Until then err on the side of caution and learn to look for warning signs that it’s time to call the doctor.

The following are some of the common illnesses in children that may turn serious:


Cold and fever, progressing quickly to coughing, rapid breathing and wheezing. Crackly or bubbling breathing sounds. In severe cases, an indrawing of the chest between and below the ribs, shortness of breath and turning blue from lack of oxygen. The wheeze and cough of bronchiolitis get worse over the first five days of the illness.

Bronchiolitis is an inflammation of the bronchioles, which are tiny air passages in the lungs. It affects children under 2 years of age. Bronchiolitis is different from bronchitis, which affects the large air passages.

Children under 6 months of age must be seen as an emergency.

Call the doctor if your child is distressed; if her chest is sucked in with each breath; if her breathing becomes more rapid; if she is unable to take in fluids or if she turns blue.


A harsh barking cough and noisy breathing, especially on breathing in. Hoarseness – your child may be worse in the morning. In severe cases your child can manifest rapid breathing and turn blue from lack of oxygen. The harsh cough (the bark of a seal) is characteristic of croup but not a warning sign.

Croup is a form of laryngitis that occurs in children from the ages of 3 months to 3 years. It is possible to have it several times, and some children are prone to it.
A child with croup is often distressed. Keep calm yourself and reassure her.

Don’t ever try to look down your child’s throat if she is wheezy or hoarse.

Call the doctor if your child’s breathing gets worse or she turns blue. Harsh breathing when the child is at rest is a severe sign and the child must be taken to hospital.


Baby: a high pitched or moaning cry. Fever. Refusing feeds Irritability when picked up. Drowsiness. Pale, blotchy and sometimes clammy skin. A tense, bulging fontanelle.

Children: severe headache and a dislike of bright lights.

Stiff neck. Fever. Drowsiness and confusion with flu-like aches and pains.

Meningitis means inflammation of the meninges – the membranes that protect the brain. It can be caused by many viruses and bacteria. Meningitis should ideally be treated in the early stages. It can develop within a matter of hours or days.

Call your doctor urgently or go straight to a hospital if you think your child has meningitis. Tell the hospital you suspect meningitis as soon as you arrive.

Urinary tract infection

Baby: A fever, listlessness or drowsiness. Refusing to feed or crying more than usual.

Older child: Passing urine more often. Burning or stinging when passing urine. Stomach ache and fever.

Cloudy, smelly urine, possibly with traces of blood in it.

Call your doctor if
you suspect that your child has a urinary tract infection. Make sure your child has plenty of water to drink to help flush out bacteria. Monitor her temperature. Try to collect some urine in a sterile container and take it to the doctor. The urine must be as fresh as possible.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Runny nose, cough, fever. Worsening cough with uncontrollable bouts, sometimes followed by the typical “whoop”.

May vomit during a coughing fit or even turn blue due to lack of oxygen. Seizures may occasionally occur. This cough is sometimes called the 100-day cough because it can last for three months.

Whooping cough in the early stages looks like a bad cold. It is worse in the under-2s and very severe in babies. It can be prevented by the pertussis vaccine (DTP).

Call the doctor if you think your child has whooping cough – she may need to admitted to hospital for treatment. Get medical help urgently if your child’s breathing is laboured, she turns blue or has a seizure.

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