Symptoms in children

When children experience unexpected symptoms, they’re most often normal and not a cause for concern. However, some signs may point to a larger issue.

For a little extra help, add the following symptoms to your parental radar. You might need to bring your child to the doctor if they persist.

Lack of response to loud sounds

Newborns and babies can’t tell you if they’re not hearing correctly. They also don’t respond to every stimulus the way we would expect.

If you notice that your child isn’t bothered by or doesn’t respond to loud sounds, make an appointment with your pediatrician to check for hearing problems. Many, but not all, states require newborn hearing screenings.

Hearing loss

As children get older and are introduced to personal music devices, loud stereos, video games, television, and even noisy city streets, their hearing may be at risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 12.5 percent of children ages 6 to 19 have permanent hearing damage due to exposure to loud noise.

Help keep noise at safe levels. When children are listening with headphones, never set the sound above half volume. The same goes for television, video games, and movies. Limit time spent around loud noises as much as possible.

Trouble focusing

Babies can’t tell you if their vision is blurry or if they can’t focus their eyes. But there are subtle ways you can tell.

If your baby never seems to focus on objects or they have a hard time finding close objects like your face or hand, let your pediatrician know. Watch for signs in school-age children like squinting, difficulty reading, or sitting too close to the TV.

If your child isn’t performing well in class, make sure to ask if they can see the blackboard. Many children are labeled “poor students” or “disruptive,” or are even diagnosed with ADHD, when they actually have unidentified poor vision. Constant eye rubbing is another sign of potential vision problems.

High fever and severe headache

Kids often run a fever due to illnesses like stomach viruses and minor infections. When a high fever is accompanied by a headache so severe that your child has a hard time keeping their eyes open, that’s a sign of a bigger problem.

See your pediatrician right away to rule out a more serious condition, such as meningitis. If untreated, meningitis can cause significant complications and, in severe cases, even death.

Your pediatrician can order tests to help determine what’s causing your child’s symptoms and offer the most appropriate treatment.

Abdominal pain

Stomach aches may seem common for some kids, especially as they work through new diets, try new foods, or have the occasional junk food overload.

Pain in the abdomen may signal a more serious issue if you notice an extra level of discomfort in your child, such as:

  • abdominal pain in the lower right side
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • stomach tenderness when touched

For example, this type of abdominal pain could signal a condition such as appendicitis. The key difference between appendicitis and a stomach virus is that in appendicitis, the stomach pain worsens over time.

Extreme fatigue

Extreme fatigue is a symptom that shouldn’t be ignored. If your child shows symptoms of fatigue or doesn’t seem to have their usual energy for an extended period of time, talk to your pediatrician.

Extreme fatigue can have several different causes. Don’t discount these complaints as symptoms of late nights or adolescence. Your pediatrician may investigate a range of possibilities, including anemia, malabsorption syndrome, and depression.

It’s important, particularly with teenagers, to give your child the option of speaking with their doctor without you in the room. Your child, and an older child especially, may feel more comfortable talking about specific medical or social issues with their doctor independently.

Breathing issues

According to the CDC, more than 8 percent of children in the United States have asthma. Telltale signs include trouble breathing when playing or exercising, a whistling sound when exhaling, shortness of breath, or difficulty recovering from a respiratory infection.

Treatment doesn’t cure asthma, but it does help minimize symptoms or stop asthma attacks when they occur. If you notice your child is having breathing problems, talk to your pediatrician.

Weight loss

Unexplained weight loss can be a concerning symptom.

Slight fluctuations in a child’s weight are generally normal. But dramatic and otherwise unintended weight loss could be a sign of a problem.

If you notice a sudden, unexplained drop in your child’s weight, it’s important to see their pediatrician. Let them know about the weight loss issue as soon as possible. They can ask your child questions and order tests to look for the reason for the weight loss.

Extreme thirst

Hours spent running and playing games call for adequate hydration. Extreme thirst is another thing altogether.

If you notice that your child has an insatiable need to drink water or can’t seem to satisfy their thirst, see their pediatrician. Constant thirst can be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, about 1.25 million children and adults in the United States live with type 1 diabetes. It’s more commonly diagnosed in children and young adults than older people.

Excess thirst is just one symptom of type 1 diabetes. Other symptoms include increased urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, and fatigue. If any of these symptoms are present, make an appointment for your child to see their pediatrician.

The takeaway

Routine doctor’s visits are an important part of making sure your child stays healthy. But even if your child isn’t due for a checkup, it’s important that they see their pediatrician if they experience unexpected and potentially serious symptoms.

Getting early treatment for a new health condition can make a big difference. Diagnosing and treating the condition can help prevent future complications. It can also potentially help your child to start feeling better sooner.