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When to Call Your Pediatrician

Is it OK to call my child's pediatrician even if I'm not sure my child is sick?  

Routine care

You should always feel free to call your pediatrician's office, even if it's for routine things like medicines, minor illnesses, injuries, behavior, or even parenting advice. Keep in mind, though, that your pediatrician may not be able to answer your questions without seeing your child first.  

Urgent care

Sometimes it's hard to tell how sick your child is. However, urgent care or a trip to the hospital is usually not needed for a simple cold or cough, mild diarrhea, constipation, temper tantrums, or sleep problems. However, if your child has any of the following, call to find out if he needs to be seen:  

  • Vomiting and diarrhea that last for more than a few hours in a child of any age  
  • Rash, especially if there is also a fever  
  • Any cough or cold that does not get better in several days, or a cold that gets worse and is accompanied by a fever  
  • Cuts that might need stitches  
  • Limping or is not able to move an arm or leg  
  • Ear pain with fever, is unable to sleep or drink, is vomiting, has diarrhea, or is acting ill  
  • Drainage from an ear  
  • Severe sore throat or problems swallowing  
  • Sharp or persistent pains in the abdomen or stomach  
  • Pain that gets worse or does not go away after several hours  
  • A rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in a baby younger than 2 months  
  • Fever and repeated vomiting at the same time  
  • Blood in the urine  
  • Bloody diarrhea or diarrhea that will not go away  
  • Not drinking for more than 12 hours  

Emergency care

Call 911 (or your emergency number) for any severely ill or injured child or if your infant or child has any of the following:  

  • Bleeding that does not stop with direct pressure over the wound  
  • Suspected poisoning (Call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.)  
  • Seizures (rhythmic jerking and loss of consciousness)  
  • Trouble breathing  
  • Skin or lips that look blue, purple, or gray  
  • Neck stiffness or rash with fever  
  • Head injury with loss of consciousness, confusion, vomiting, or poor skin color  
  • Sudden lack of energy or is not able to move  
  • Unconsciousness or lack of response  
  • Acting strangely or becoming more withdrawn and less alert  
  • A cut or burn that is large, deep, or involves the head, chest, abdomen, hands, groin, or face  

Tips Before And During A Call To The Doctor  

Your pediatrician may prefer that you call with general questions during office hours. Some offices even have special "phone-in" times. Before you call, have a pen and paper ready to write down any instructions and questions. It's easy to forget things, especially if you are worried about your child. During the call make sure your child is near the phone, if possible, in case you need to answer any questions.  

Also, be prepared to provide information about your child's health.  

  • Fever
    If you think your child has a fever, take your child's temperature before you call. If your child does have a fever, write down the temperature and time you took it.  
  • Medical problems
    Remind the doctor about past medical problems (such as asthma, seizures, or other conditions). He or she cares for many children each day and may not remember your child's health history.  
  • Medicines
    Be sure to mention if your child is taking any medicines, including prescription or nonprescription drugs, inhalers, supplements, vitamins, herbal products, or home remedies.  
  • Immunizations
    Keep immunization records at hand. These are especially helpful if your child has an injury that may require a tetanus shot or if pertussis (whooping cough) is in your community.  
  • Pharmacy
    Have the phone number of your pharmacy ready.  

If the doctor needs to return your call, make sure you are available for a callback. Unblock your phone "call block," and keep phone lines open so that your pediatrician can return your call in a timely manner. Do not leave pager numbers. If you leave a cell phone number, be sure that you have your cell phone on and will be in an area where you can receive calls.

Last Updated
You and Your Pediatrician (Copyright © 2002 American Academy of Pediatrics, updated 2/2009)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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