Serious Childhood Illness: Symptoms to Look Out For

How can you tell if your child is just under the weather, or seriously ill? Read on to learn some of the symptoms of serious childhood illness.

Young children between the ages of one and 10 experience about four to nine illnesses per year on average. As a parent, you expect this and take care of them accordingly.

But, how do you know when a child falls ill with something outside of the norm? Early detection of more severe illnesses may help ease discomfort and give them a better prognosis.

Keep reading to learn when to suspect serious childhood illness. 


Getting sick is exhausting. The immune system goes into overdrive, using a lot of extra energy to fight off infection and heal.

So when your little one falls ill, you can expect them to act tired and sleep more. More serious illness, however, can cause lethargy.

This extreme type of fatigue makes a child inactive and potentially unresponsive. Even when kids feel yucky, they respond and even get little bouts of energy throughout the day. If you cannot wake your child up or they remain consistently inactive, seek pediatric care.


Sickness leads to increased body temperature. Fevers serve an important function by killing germs.

But, if your child’s temperature spikes, this indicates that their body cannot properly fight the infection. Prolonged periods of extreme heat can damage the brain.

If their temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit and/or does not lower with fever reducers, consider it an emergency situation. A fever lasting five days also points to a more serious illness in children.


Do not panic over a minor sore throat, belly ache, or body aches. Infections often cause some discomfort.

But, if your child experiences severe or continuous pain, this is one of the symptoms of serious childhood illness. Watch for continuous scrunched facial expressions along with whimpering, crying, or grunting.

Severe pain may also cause a child to hold their breath or double over. Pain like this is never normal.

Difficulty Breathing

An out-of-control respiratory infection or severe allergic reaction can compromise a child’s breathing. Labored breathing requires immediate care, as lack of oxygen can lead to serious injury or death.

Kids cannot always communicate that they cannot breathe properly. They may not even know.

Watch for an increase in respiration, chest retractions, and sweating. Listen for 

wheezing, whistling, or gurgling sounds. Changes in skin color to pale blue or purple indicate a low blood oxygen level.

Appetite Changes and Dehydration

Kids may eat less when they fall ill. But, severe appetite changes can indicate a more serious issue, especially if they last for days. If your child will not eat or you notice them dropping weight, contact their pediatrician. 

Also, watch their fluid intake. If they cannot drink or keep down fluids, they need emergency attention. Signs of dehydration include increased body temperature, rapid breathing, dry mouth, and exhaustion.

Catch Serious Childhood Illness Early

Kids typically heal well from minor infections. But, serious childhood illness can cause devastating effects if not caught early. If your little one shows signs of severe sickness, get them prompt medical attention to give them the best chance at a full recovery.

Keeping yourself well gives you the energy to properly care for your children. Find helpful tips on my health page!

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