Signs your baby may have a serious illness

By: Miles Hector

Dealing with a kid with a common cold can be a major inconvenience as a parent. But when it comes to dealing with serious illnesses, it can be downright stressful. And it’s even worse as a new parent, or a parent dealing with a serious illness for the first time, because you don’t know what to look for. 

The important thing to remember is that you know your child best and you’re one of the best judges of when something is wrong. Use the 7 signs and symptoms of serious illness below as a guide but don’t forget to trust your instincts. 

Please note that #4 (Bluish Skin) and #6 (Seizures) indicate medical emergencies. Call 911 if they experience either bluish skin, seizures, a rash that doesn’t fade, or severe drowsiness.

1.   Ear Discomfort and Pain

Ear pain is one of the most severe signs of ear infections in the ear canal, middle ear, or disrupted fluid behind the eardrum. Children under five years are at high risk of developing ear infections. Signs and symptoms of ear pain in young children are:

  • Pulling on the ear
  • Frequent crying
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fluid drainage
  • High fever
  • Loss of balance

2.   Severe Fatigue

Signs like a lack of energy, reduced interest in physical activity or sports, and emotional melancholy may indicate serious illness in children. Although fatigue does not always mean a sick child, if symptoms persist for a prolonged period, your child could end up suffering chronic illnesses such as depression or insomnia.

3.   Dehydration

Dehydration, or acute gastroenteritis, is another sign of a severe condition in children. A recent study found that this is the primary cause of dehydration in children. Acute gastroenteritis is a disease caused by consuming food or water that has been contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms such as E. Coli. This is common when vacationing in foreign countries. 

Pathogens in the digestive tract can trigger diarrhea which reduce hydration levels in a child’s body. Be sure to contact a medical professional if your child experiences any of the symptoms below. 

  • Increased thirst
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry lips
  • Infrequent bathroom trips
  • Constipation 

4.   Bluish Skin Appearance

Methemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome, is characterized by a bluish skin appearance. Reduced hemoglobin levels in your baby’s blood are the primary cause of this illness. It prevents the blood vessels from carrying oxygenated blood to organs and tissues. If you notice your child’s skin appears blue with any of the following signs, call 911 and seek emergency help.

  • Frequent headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy

5.   Irritability

Abnormal irritability can be a sign of anger issues, behavioural problems, and mental health conditions. This can range from Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), autism to ADHD. Genetics, as well as biological and environmental factors, are the primary contributors to aggressive behaviour in children. Signs and symptoms of irritability or fussiness in children are:

  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Frustration
  • Hot-headed outbursts
  • Cool-headed bullying
  • Hitting and biting
  • Angry tantrums
  • Verbal attacks

6.   Seizures

Causes of seizures in children are genetic changes, brain injury, low sodium levels in the blood, infections, or a tumour. For instance, West syndrome, also known as infantile spasms, is a severe seizure type in babies.

Seizures cause stiffness in the muscles and bones of your child’s limbs. You may also notice that your baby’s head bends forward. General signs and symptoms of seizures in children are:

  • Jerking arms or legs
  • Body stiffness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Sudden falls

Call 911 and ask for an ambulance if your child is having seizures.

7.   Persistent Crying

A persistent cry in a young baby is a common indicator of a chronic condition such as sepsis. In addition, toddlers usually cry due to sadness, anger, frustration, or behavioural issues. Obviously this one can be a bit tricky as babies cry all the time. The key here is when babies are seemingly crying for no reason or if a solution to stop the crying can’t be found. 

If your child experiences any of the symptoms above, reach out to a medical professional immediately.