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Knowing when your child is ill

Sometimes there’s no doubt. But often it’s difficult to tell whether a child is ill. Children may be listless, hot and miserable one minute, and running around quite happily the next. Watch out for:

  • some sign of illness (like vomiting or a temperature, cough, runny nose, runny eyes);
  • behaviour that’s unusual for your child (like a lot of crying, being very irritable or refusing food and drink, being listless or drowsy).

Possible signs of illness are always more worrying if your child is a baby or very small. To know when to consult the doctor about your baby.

If your child is older and you’re not sure whether or not to see the doctor, you might want to carry on normally for a while and see whether the signs of illness or pain continue. It might be best not to let your child see you watching. Most children can put on an act, especially if they see you’re worried.

Above all, trust your feelings. You know better than anyone what your child is like day-to-day, so you’ll know what’s unusual or worrying. If you’re worried, contact your doctor. Even if it turns out that nothing is wrong, that is exactly what you need to know.

If you have seen your GP or health visitor and your baby isn’t getting better or is getting worse, contact your GP again the same day. If you become worried and you can’t get hold of your GP or your GP can’t come to you quickly enough, then take your baby straight to the Accident and Emergency department of the nearest hospital, one with a children’s ward if possible. It’s worth finding out in advance where this is, in case you ever need it.

If you’re seriously worried and/or know your child needs urgent attention, phone your GP at any time of the day or night. There may be a different number for when the surgery is closed. If you can’t contact a GP, go directly to the nearest Accident and Emergency department. See inside the back cover for what to do in an emergency.


We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.