sick child in bed flickr / Matteo Bagnoli
The Chronic

How To Tell If A Kid’s Recurring Illness Is Normal Or Serious

Your kid is sick. Again. It seems like just last week they were sick. And they were sick a couple weeks before that. In fact, you’ve probably spent so much time tending to your sicko that you’re considering buying Kleenex and Pedialyte. Because at the rate this is going, you’re singlehandedly raising the stock price.

And while your financial instincts are clearly infallible, your perception of how often your kid is sick may not be. It’s important to understand if what they’re going through is normal, or if it’s a sign of something more serious. The odds are good that it’s the former and not the latter, but it helps to be sure.

Why Kids Are Always Sick

The thing about children is that they have to grow into the harsh realities of the world. While your body has an immunity equivalent to a band of grizzled World War II soldiers that have seen it all, your kid’s system is pretty dang green. And that green almost always comes out of their nose holes. They just not equipped for germ warfare.

This vulnerability is practically built into them until they’re adults. The tubes in their head (ears, nose, and throat) are all much shorter, which makes it easy for germs to make the journey from the outside in. Picture your kid’s head is like the Death Star, and its fatal flaw is being exploited by rebel viruses and bacteria. But when it explodes, it’s less cool ring of fire and more projectile vomit.

What’s Normal

The amount of illness you should expect them to experience every year is shocking. But it’s good to know, because the last thing you want to do is be constantly worried you’re going to have to seal up your house like Walter White’s meth lab. Here’s what to expect:

  • Ear Infections: Twice a year at least
  • Croup: Once before the age of 3
  • Diarrhea: Up to 3 times a year is normal (cha cha cha)
  • Vomiting: Again, up to 3 times a year. Hopefully not with diarrhea.
  • Colds: Up to 10 a year are in a normal range. And now your life has a new normal.
  • Strep: About once a year

What’s Not Normal

When the occurrence of any of these illness is higher than normal, they’ve become chronic and could be a sign that something worse is going on. Often it can be hard to figure that out, particularly when you consider illnesses like a cold can last up to 2 weeks and are easily confused with allergies.

The best way to figure out what’s going on is to keep an illness diary. Tracking the symptoms and when they occur throughout the year can help you spot whether a kid has truly had an upper respiratory infection for 3 solid months (which could be a sign of asthma) or if it has simply been a devastating series of colds separated by a few days of health here and there.

And if they’re beyond the normal rate — in whatever illness — be sure to get your pediatrician involved. That’s particularly true if there is a persistent fever or pain, difficulty breathing, or dehydration. These are all signs that something bigger may be going on.

And while that may be a boon to your pharmaceutical portfolio, it’s not so great for your home.

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