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Childhood illnesses are part of growing up. But when are symptoms treatable at home and when should you seek medical care? Here are five childhood illness symptoms you should never ignore. 

It can be helpful to access medical advice if your child is ill before you decide whether to visit a GP or the emergency room. Fedhealth, for example, offers members with children under the age of three access to the Pead-IQ BabyLine. This is a South African medical information company that provides medical  information and services to parents and caregivers with children up to 14 years old.

But, there are times when immediate medical attention is needed. Here are five childhood illness symptoms you should never ignore.

breathing issues 

Difficulty in breathing could be a symptom of various conditions including pneumonia, chest infections or an asthma attack. In general, an infection is typically accompanied by a fever, while asthma is not. 

If your child has sudden breathlessness, it could mean something is blocking their airway and they are choking. Always seek urgent medical advice if there are issues with your child’s breathing – especially if it comes on quickly. 

Read more about tonsillitis and  croup

hearing loss

There are two types of hearing loss in children: congenital hearing loss, which is present at birth, and acquired hearing loss which develops later. Congenital hearing loss is usually caused by genetic factors or infections in either the mother or baby during pregnancy. Acquired hearing loss is usually the result of diseases that occur in childhood, such as recurring ear infections. 

Hearing loss can be either sensorineural, where it affects the inner ear or auditory nerve, or conductive, where sound is unable to move through the ear. This could be due to a fluid build-up, wax or another object lodged in the ear, or a punctured eardrum. In many cases, especially with conductive hearing loss, the condition can be treated with medicine or surgery.


Like hearing loss, headaches can happen on their own or together with other symptoms. In very rare cases, a headache can signal a serious problem like a brain tumour. But in most cases, the underlying causes are treatable. It could be caused by an illness like sinusitis, emotional factors like stress and anxiety, minor bumps or bruises to the head or even allergies to certain foods. 

However, if your child develops a severe headache out of the blue, it gets worse over time, or it was accompanied by an event like a head fall and/or concussion, you should seek immediate help. This is especially true if your child is experiencing other symptoms such as visual problems, dizziness, a lack of mobility or a sore neck. 

a spreading rash

Rashes are common in childhood, and are most often caused by viral infections. In many cases, the rash will go away on its own. The irritation will be mild and last a short time. Rashes have many different appearances. Some are milder and others more serious. Measles and chickenpox have distinct rashes and are highly contagious, so you should seek medical help if you suspect these illnesses – especially if they’re accompanied by a fever. 

A rash that doesn’t turn white when you press on it (known as a non-blanching rash), along with symptoms such as a fever, headache, stiff neck or back pain could signify a more serious illness such as meningitis or even sepsis. 

stiff neck

A stiff neck in active children is often caused by muscle strain during sports or play activities. It can also be the result of a physical trauma such as a fall or a car accident. Sleeping or sitting in odd positions for long periods of time can affect the neck. 

If your child’s stiff neck has no obvious mechanical cause and is accompanied by fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, a rash, swollen lymph nodes and/or muscle or joint pain, this could signify a more serious illness such as meningitis or tick bite fever. In these cases, seek help as soon as possible to avoid more severe complications. 

While you don’t want to panic and spend unnecessarily on doctor consultations, seek help sooner rather than later if you are worried. If you notice any of these five childhood illness symptoms, consult a doctor.

Trust your instinct as a parent: if something feels serious, it probably is. Children are extremely resilient and usually bounce back quickly from sickness. But knowing when to take action will help alleviate anxiety and help prevent serious illness.