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8 Serious Illnesses in Babies and Children that Every Parent Needs to Be Aware of

Whether you’re a first-time mum or an experienced one, it is never easy watching your precious bub feel under the weather.

You want to do everything within your power to make them feel better. But while you don’t want to overreact to every little ailment, you must also remain vigilant to ensure they don’t get worse.

There will be times when your little one is in distress, and you shouldn’t wait to make an appointment with your child’s physician.

We outline eight serious illnesses in babies to be aware of, plus when you should take immediate action by calling an ambulance, and when you should head to the nearest emergency department.

Serious Illnesses in Babies to Be Aware Of

1. Fever

Fever usually occurs when your body is trying to fight an infection or something it considers foreign. And while a fever is not necessarily a sign of serious illness, it is something that should not be dismissed, especially in young children.

baby with fever, high temperature, fever treatment
Source: Bigstock

As a rule of thumb, anything higher than 38⁰C (Celsius) is considered a fever. Here is what you should do depending on your tot’s age:

  • 0 to 1 month of age, take bub to the nearest emergency department immediately.
  • 1 to 12 months of age, see your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.
  • Over 12 months of age and your tot’s fever lasts longer than 4 days, then you should seek your pediatrician for assistance.

Read more: How to treat a fever in children


2. Meningitis

This is the inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. Meningitis is usually caused by an infection and can be life-threatening.

meningococcal disease
Liliana’s mum shared her daughter’s terrifying battle with meningococcal on Facebook in 2018. Source: Facebook

Typical signs of meningitis include:

  • Headache
  • Sore or stiff neck
  • Vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Rash that does not fade when pressed

GLASS TEST: When your child has a rash, your first port-of-call should be to conduct a glass test. Press a glass firmly against your tot’s skin. If the rash doesn’t fade when pressed, then you should reach out for medical assistance immediately.

If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms above, take them to the ER or call an ambulance.

Read more: Meningococcal: The Life-Saving Facts Every Parent Should Know


3. Seizures (Fits)

Seizures can be normal in young children. Often caused by high fevers, they are called febrile convulsions.

When a seizure occurs, rapid, uncoordinated electrical activity in the brain causes stiffening and shaking of the limbs and loss of consciousness. Witnessing a seizure can be frightening, especially if it’s your helpless, little bub experiencing it.

You should seek help if it is your child’s first seizure, it lasts longer than 5 minutes, they have difficulty breathing, or have injured themselves during the fit.

Read more: What Genetic Epilepsy Looks Like


4. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

An infection of the bladder, urethra, ureters (urine tubes), or kidneys can be dangerous if left untreated as it can lead to kidney infection and possible sepsis. Anyone can experience a UTI, especially young children.

Typical signs of a UTI include:

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Weeing often
  • Blood in the urine, usually pink, red, or brown
  • Fever
  • Lower abdomen discomfort

An UTI requires a medical diagnosis and antibiotics.


5. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is the inflammation or infection of the lungs caused by bacteria or a virus. When it occurs, it is often followed by a cold.

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fast or difficult breathing
  • Persistent cough
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the chest

You should take your child to the hospital if they are younger than 12 months, are experiencing severe breathing problems, or are severely dehydrated due to vomiting.


6. Sepsis

Also called septicaemia or blood poisoning, sepsis is a dangerous blood infection caused by bacteria. It can be the result of any infection in the body that is not addressed promptly enough.

Seek immediate help if your child is:

  • Showing spotty, pallid, or bluish skin
  • Lethargic or floppy
  • Feels cold to the touch
  • Breathing fast
  • Having seizures
  • Displaying a rash that doesn’t fade when pressed
Raevyn Harper Sepsis Heart Failure
Raevyn Harper was just eight weeks old when she passed away due to sepsis. Source: GoFundMe

Read more: Mum Shares Heartbreaking Journey of Losing her 8-Week-Old Daughter to Sepsis


7. Asthma

When a child has asthma, they often wheeze, cough, and have breathing problems. Although wheezing from time to time is common in young children, severe wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath can indicate an issue.

Other signs to look for include:

  • Pulling in the skin between the ribs or at the base of the neck
  • Tot cannot speak a full sentence
  • Blue lips
  • Puffer (inhaler) is not working

If your child experiences any of the above symptoms, call for an ambulance immediately.


8. Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis happens when a child has a severe allergic reaction to something they have touched or eaten. It can be life-threatening and typically requires an adrenalin injection (EpiPen).

If your tot experiences:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swollen tongue
  • Swelling or tightness in the throat
  • Difficulty speaking or has a hoarse voice
  • Wheezing
  • Persistent cough
  • Pale skin
  • Lethargy or is floppy

You must call for an ambulance and administer an adrenaline injection.

Read more: The Terrifying Reality of Having a Baby with Life-Threatening Food Allergies


When to take action: 

Dial Triple Zero (000) for an Ambulance if:

1. The child is experiencing severe drowsiness or is unresponsive.

2. The child is having difficulty breathing or is experiencing unusual breathing.

3. Baby has cold hands or feet or has pale, blue, or blotchy skin.

4. Your tot experiences seizures (fit).

5. You notice a rash on bub that doesn’t go away after the glass test.

Go to a Hospital Emergency Department if:

1. Your tot is irritable or is crying incessantly. 

2. Bub wees less than normal. 

3. Your tot has no appetite or is vomiting repeatedly. 

4. Your tot has a fever of 40°C or higher or your newborn has a fever over 38°C. 

Remember, you know your child best.  As always, exercise your mother’s intuition or “mum-gut”. If something is niggling you that it’s not right, you should contact your doctor or visit your local hospital as soon as possible.

In the event of an emergency, always ring 000. For more advice visit Health Direct. 

Witnessing your tot feel under the weather can be stressful and overwhelming. You don’t want to exaggerate every little sniffle, wheeze, or cough.

However, some serious illnesses in babies and symptoms are important to keep in mind when your bub is feeling sick so that you can take the appropriate actions before things escalate.

Having this knowledge will give you the peace of mind and confidence you need to take care of your little one without stress and anxiety.

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Avatar of Gloria Ramirez

Gloria Ruby Ramirez is a writer, mother, and lover of coffee, twinkle lights, and rain who believes in the magical power of words. She is passionate about parenting, mental health, and the environment. She is a former agricultural microbiologist/plant pathologist with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Arizona State University. Born in the desert of northern Mexico, she is mum to her beautifully energetic son and Shih Tzu, Gerty. When not writing, Gloria can be found spending time with her son and family, reading, or embroidering.

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