Young children's health: what to expect

Young children's health: what to expect

Child health and your family GP

Mild illnesses are part of growing up - there's not a lot you can do to help your child avoid them. But if you're ever worried about your child's health, you should see your GP.

Knowing you have good medical care for your young child can put your mind at ease, and choosing a good family doctor ahead of time can save you a lot of worry. It's important for you and your child to have a good relationship with the GP and feel confident about the GP's advice.

There might be times when you're not happy with a doctor's diagnosis or advice. It's OK to want a second opinion or to consider changing doctors.

Signs of serious illness can include severe pain, drowsiness, pale or blue skin, dehydration, difficulty breathing, unresponsiveness and seizures. Young children's symptoms can get worse very quickly, so seek urgent medical attention 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, dust mites, animals or pollen. See your GP if you think your child has an allergy.

If your child has asthma she might have a whistling wheeze when breathing, be short of breath either during physical activity or while she's resting, or 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 colds as often as once a month. 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 an infection of the lining of the eyeball and eyelids. Symptoms include red, puffy, sticky and sore eyes. 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.

Food intolerances
Food intolerances are a reaction to a food you've eaten. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain, which usually clear up by themselves. Talk to your GP if you think your child has a food intolerance.

Lots of children get gastroenteritis ('gastro'). Symptoms include diarrhoea, loss of appetite, vomiting and nausea, stomach cramps and fever. Most cases of gastroenteritis in children aren't serious, but it's important to make sure that your child gets enough fluid.

Hand, foot and mouth disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease causes small blisters inside the mouth and on the hands and feet. These aren't itchy. It's a mild and harmless infection.

Impetigo or school sores usually starts as flat, red 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 are very itchy. If you think your child has impetigo, take her to the GP, because she needs antibiotics. Impetigo is highly contagious.

Lice or nits
These insects attach themselves to children's hair, lay eggs (often called nits) and cause lots of scratching and itching. You can remove lice by combing wet hair with conditioner or using anti-lice products.

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 red, hot and painful.

Symptoms of worms include an itchy or red bottom. 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 handwashing with soap and water. 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 measles and diphtheria, which are potentially serious and even life threatening. Your child can be immunised by your GP or at a community or local council health clinic.

Use medications only as recommended or prescribed
Give your child medication only when recommended by a pharmacist or prescribed by a doctor. Check the dosage instruction on the label to make sure that you give your child the right dose for his weight or age.

You can read more about medications 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 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 we have to protect ourselves - and others - from illness.

Slip, slop, slap, seek and slide
Keep your child safe in the sun and prevent sunburn by:

  • 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 wraparound 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). At 18 months, you can start using a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste.

Find out more about dental care for babies, dental care for toddlers and dental care for preschoolers.