Caring for a sick child

Girl playing dress up doctor.jpgWhen children are sick, check them often to make sure they're okay. If they're getting sicker or you're worried, take them to see a doctor.

If you’re not sure what to do, call PlunketLine 0800 933 922 for children aged 0-5 years. It’s a free phone line service for all New Zealand families. Registered nurses will listen to you, give you information and advice, and help you decide what to do for your child.

What you need to do

  • Give your child plenty of fluids – as they may have lost their appetite. They should get their appetite back as they get better.
  • Give your child extra rest and cuddles as they may be feeling miserable.
  • Wash your hands after caring for a sick child, especially before you prepare and serve food. You don’t want to pass on an infection to others.
  • Keep your child home from playgroup or pre-school to help stop any infection passing on to other children. Check if they have a policy on sick children.
  • Try to get some rest during the day, accept offers of help, and don’t expect too much of yourself.
  • Teach children that the best way to reduce the risk of passing on illness to others is through good hygiene.

Encourage your child to:

  • cough and sneeze into their elbow, rather than their hands. 
  • wash hands with soap and dry them properly.

Medicines for your sick child

A doctor or midwife may prescribe medicine for your child when they’re sick or hurt, and you can buy some medicines over the counter at the pharmacy. It’s important to read the label to check how much medicine to give, and how often to give it. Give the right dose - the amount that the doctor, midwife or pharmacist recommends.

It’s not safe to give your child a medicine that was prescribed for another child or an adult, even if they have a similar problem. Talk to the pharmacist when you buy medicine at the pharmacy, to make sure that the medicine is right for your child’s age, weight and problem.

Using antibiotics

The doctor may prescribe antibiotics for an infection. Your child needs to take the antibiotics for as long as the doctor says, even if they seem better. This is important to make sure the infection has gone.

Do not use aspirin

Don’t give aspirin to children because of the risk of a serious condition called Reyes Syndrome. Phone Healthline, a pharmacist or see your doctor if you’re not sure what medicine to give your child.

Using liquid paracetamol

Paracetamol is useful for pain. It can take pain away, but it doesn’t take away the cause of the pain. If you use liquid paracetamol when your child is sick, read the instructions on the bottle to work out the right dose. If pain or fever lasts for more than a few hours, is severe or you’re worried, see the doctor to find out what’s causing the pain.

Things to remember about paracetamol

  • Check the strength of the paracetamol and follow the instructions on the bottle to work out the right dose for your child’s age and weight.
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure how much to give your child.
  • Paracetamol is not a sedative - it will not help children go to sleep.
  • Do not give it more than four times a day, or for more than a couple of days.
  • Always keep it locked away or stored out of your child’s reach.

Too much paracetamol is a poison, and poisons more New Zealand children than any other substance. It can seriously hurt or kill a child. Liquid paracetamol is a bright colour and tastes sweet, so children may think it’s a treat. Children may open the bottle themselves and swallow it accidentally.

Storage tips for all medicines

  • Always keep medicine out of sight, out of reach and if possible, locked away.
  • Ask your pharmacist to fit child-resistant tops to the medicines you buy.
  • If medicines have to stay in the fridge, put them out of sight and out of reach.
If you think your child has taken an overdose of medicine you need to see a doctor urgently or phone the Poisons Information Centre 0800 POISON (0800 764 766).
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