So Many Sick Kids: Why It’s Happening, When to Be Concerned, and How Best to Be Seen
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Whew! It’s been a rough Fall already, hasn’t it? It seems like all the kids are sick, all the time!
We’ve had so many parents tell us how concerned they are, because their child has never been this sick for this long before.
So we thought we’d give you a bit of background to help it all make more sense.
Pre-pandemic, the first year a child was around a lot of other kids — whether that was in child care, pre-K, or Kindergarten — they got a lot of viral illnesses. About one a month through fall and winter.
Why? Because they were exposed to all the “normal” kid viruses and building up their immunity. The first winter was really tough, the second was a bit easier, and by the third, they were attendance-award winners. Because by then, they were immune to (almost) everything.
But, thanks to COVID, kids stayed home for a year and a half. They didn’t get sick nearly as often — which was great! — but they weren’t exposed to all those kiddie viruses, so they lost that built-up immunity. When they went back to in-person school last year, many of them wore masks, so they were still somewhat protected.
This Fall, everyone’s back in-person without masks, and they’re all — from birth all the way through high school and college! — experiencing a new “first year” at the same time. So instead of 1, we’re now seeing kids get 2 & even 3 back-to-back (-to back!) viral illnesses per month.
It feels like constant, non-stop sickness. Because, for many kids, it is!
That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news:
As long as a child isn’t getting serious illnesses that land them in the hospital over and over, is growing well over time, and is continuing to progress in their skills, you don’t have to worry about all these illnesses. They’re a nuisance to be sure — and a bigger nuisance now; you used to just go to school with a cold! — but they’re not worrisome.
We know this winter is going to be tough. Next winter should be better, and by the 3rd winter, we’ll hopefully be back to having attendance-award-winning kids!
What Should You Do? And When Should You Be Concerned?
So, in the meantime… what’s a parent to do? How can you tell if this is just several consecutive minor illnesses, or something more concerning?
Here are a few pointers:
• With a viral respiratory illness, you can feel really crummy, and have a fever, cough, and thick green nasal discharge, especially in the first 3-4 days. After that, the symptoms usually get better, and by 7-10 days — sometimes a few days longer for the youngest kids, who can’t just blow their noses to get rid of those last days of mucus — the symptoms have resolved.
• If your child gets even 1 or 2 days with no symptoms, but then starts again… That’s the next viral illness in line. So make a point to notice (and enjoy!) those 1 or 2 symptom-free days, and start the countdown again!
• If the symptoms never really go away, even for a day or two, or if your child develops new or worsening symptoms — for example, a new fever, worsening cough, or ear pain — at what should be the end of the illness, there may be a complication happening. Viral illness complications can include ear infections, sinus infections, and sometimes even pneumonia. So if those symptoms hang on more than a week, and you’re concerned about something more serious, call and schedule an appointment.
• You should also call us any time your child seems to be struggling to breathe. When that happens, you’ll see rapid, labored breathing, with their nose flaring and/or their ribs sucking in and out.
• Call if your child has a fever of 101 or higher for longer than 2-3 days, and/or if you think your child may be dehydrated (signs include dry mouth, no tears, and decreased urine output).
• If your child is younger than 3 months, call us any time they have a fever.
What’s the Best Way to Be Seen (If You Need to Be)?
Finally, here are some pointers about how best to navigate our busy offices at a time when all the kids are sick all the time…
You’re almost certain to see longer than usual wait times for Walk-In Visits. We know Walk-Ins can make life easy for busy families, and that’s why we continue to have them. But with so many people walking in, you might find it easier — and much more efficient — to schedule a sick appointment.
Appointments are much more predictable, and we schedule them in a way that allows us to see you as close to on-time as possible. With as busy as we and everyone else have been with Walk-Ins — Children’s Hospital emergency room has had wait times as long as 14 hours recently! — there may be some days when we reach our full capacity and can’t accept any more Walk-Ins for several hours, or even the rest of the day. If you have an appointment, you know for certain that you’ll be seen, with as short a wait as possible, when you walk in the door.
So right now, if you think your child needs to be seen, the best thing you can do is call or send us a Patient Portal message. We can talk to you, sort out if your child really does need to be seen, and, if so, get you an appointment as soon as possible.
As always, thanks for your patience and understanding. We’re working as hard as we can right now to see all these kids who are sick all the time, and to provide the best possible care and support for you and your family.
Dr. Sarah Springer, one of the physician owners of the practice, has been a Kids Plus Provider since 2003.