Child health and your family GP
Mild illnesses are common in childhood. But if you’re ever worried about your child’s health, you should see your GP.
It’s important for you and your child to have a good relationship with your family GP. It might be easier for a GP who knows you and your child to understand your child’s health problems. The GP might also be able to help your child avoid health problems in the first place.
A good relationship can help you to feel confident about your GP’s advice. But there might be times when you feel uncertain about their advice or diagnosis. It’s OK to ask for a second opinion from another health professional or to consider changing GPs.
Signs of serious illness can include severe pain, severe drowsiness, pale or blue skin, dehydration, difficulty breathing, unresponsiveness and seizures. Phone 000 and ask for an ambulance if you see any of these symptoms.
Common child health issues
Here’s a quick guide to some of the most common child health issues in Australia.
Allergies happen when your child’s immune system reacts to substances in the environment that are harmless to most people – for example, foods, insect stings or bites, dust mites, animals or pollen. See your GP if you think your child has an allergy.
If your child has asthma they might have a wheeze when breathing, be short of breath either during physical activity or while they’re resting, have a persistent dry cough, or cough during physical activity or at night. If you think your child has asthma, see your GP.
Children can get as many as 10 colds a year. The best treatment is usually fluids, comfort and rest. Antibiotics won’t help. If you’re worried that it’s something more serious than a cold, see your GP.
Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the lining of the eye over the eyeball and inside the eyelids. It’s usually caused by an infection or allergy. Symptoms include red, puffy, sore eyes and yellow or green sticky discharge.
Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are very contagious, but allergic conjunctivitis isn’t contagious. Take your child to the GP to check which kind of conjunctivitis your child has and how to treat it.
A food intolerance is a reaction to the food you’re eating. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea and stomach pain, which usually clear up by themselves. Talk to your GP if you think your child has a food intolerance.
Many children get gastroenteritis (‘gastro’). Symptoms include diarrhoea, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, stomach ache and fever. Most cases of gastroenteritis in children aren’t serious, but it’s important to make sure that your child gets enough fluid to avoid dehydration.
Hand, foot and mouth disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease causes a rash, small mouth ulcers and blisters on hands and feet. It’s a mild and harmless infection. If your child has mouth ulcers, they might go off their food and refuse fluids. Make sure your child is drinking enough fluid.
Impetigo or school sores usually starts as flat spots or small blisters anywhere on your child’s body. The spots might fill up with yellow or green pus, burst or crust over. The blisters can be itchy. If you think your child has impetigo, go to the GP, because your child needs antibiotics. Impetigo is highly contagious, so keep your child at home until they’ve been on antibiotic treatment for at least 24 hours.
Head lice or nits
These insects attach themselves to children’s hair, lay eggs (often called nits), and cause a lot of scratching and itching. You can remove head lice by combing wet hair with conditioner or using anti-lice products. Keep your child at home until the day after you’ve treated the head lice.
A wart is a small, flesh-coloured, raised growth. You mostly see them on children’s arms, hands and legs. Warts are usually painless. See your GP if the wart is on your child’s face, feet or genitals, or if the wart looks swollen, warm and red on lighter skin or brown, purple or grey on darker skin, or if the wart is painful.
Symptoms of worms include an itchy anus or discolouration around the anus. Symptoms might happen more at night-time. Worms aren’t usually dangerous. They’re easy to treat with antiparasitic tablets that you can buy over the counter from your local pharmacy. You should treat everyone in the family at the same time. It’s very common for infections to come back, particularly in children at child care, preschool or school.
Many common childhood infections spread easily. One of the best ways to prevent spread is careful hand-washing. You can teach your child to wash hands before eating, after going to the toilet, and after touching animals or dirty things.
Child health tips
Make sure immunisations are up to date
Immunisation protects your child and your community against diseases like influenza, measles and diptheria, which are potentially serious and even life threatening. Your child can be immunised by your GP or at a community health clinic or local government immunisation clinic.
Use medicines only as needed, recommended or prescribed
You can use medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen without a prescription when your child has a fever or mild pain. You don’t normally need to see a doctor to use these medicines. But if you’re unsure, talk to your pharmacist or GP.
Give your child other medicines only when recommended by a pharmacist or prescribed by a GP. And always check dosage instructions on medicine labels to make sure that you give your child the right dose for their weight or age.
You can read more about medicines for children.
Keep your child’s air clean
Second-hand and third-hand smoke can cause serious health risks to children. The best way to protect your child is to quit smoking. If someone in your house smokes, make sure they always smoke outside and away from your child. And never smoke in a car that carries children.
Also avoid using chemical household sprays, like insect repellent or cleaning products, when your child is in the room.
Daily personal hygiene is important for children and anyone taking care of children. It’s one of the most effective ways to protect ourselves – and others – from illness.
- slipping on protective clothing
- slopping on SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
- slapping on a broad-brimmed hat
- seeking shade
- sliding on close-fitting, wrap-around sunglasses.
Brush twice a day
Good dental health is vital to your child’s general health. It’s also key to avoiding tooth decay.
Brush your child’s teeth twice a day – morning and night. Just use water on the toothbrush until your child is 18 months old (unless a dentist tells you otherwise). From 18 months-3 years, use a smear of low-fluoride toothpaste. And at 3-6 years, use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste.