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The Hood Magazine

How Sick is Too Sick?

Nov 25, 2014 06:32PM ● By Hood Magazine
By Alyssa Kuecker, Avera Health  


Before she even rounds the hallway corner, you can hear the coughs and sniffles. It’s 7:30 am on a Tuesday in the middle of the hustle and bustle of preparing for work and school. Is she OK enough to attend school or daycare, or should you reroute your day and send her back to bed?

Nicholas Torbert, DO, a Pediatrician with Avera Medical Group McGreevy 7th Avenue, helps parents make these stat decisions about a sick child. “Apart from assessing whether your child looks emergently ill, typically one of the best first steps is asking your child about what he or she is experiencing,” says Dr. Torbert.

These questions are quite simple: “What is hurting right now? Is it your head/tummy/throat? Have you thrown up or gone to the bathroom too many times?”

“Even as physicians, we feel that just getting the history of an illness is one of the most critical parts of making a diagnosis,” says Dr. Torbert.

Dr. Torbert also recommends watching to see if your child is drinking normally, urinating as much as usual, breathing easily, displaying any different behaviors, or is running a fever.

If your child has had a high fever for 24 hours, has been up all or most of the night, has vomited or had diarrhea, or has been diagnosed with an illness by a doctor, you should keep him/her home. Especially in cases of influenza, strep throat, mono or any contagious condition, call school or childcare to inform them your child won’t be attending. 

Dr. Torbert strongly encourages parents to take their child to the doctor if the symptoms seem to be worsening. Visit your family doctor or pediatrician if:

  • You feel uncomfortable about a certain symptom
  • You have questions about your child’s health
  • A high fever has lasted longer than two days
  • You suspect your child is dehydrated, and urinating less than usual
  • You notice changes in behavior, especially those that alarm you
  • Your child is having difficulty breathing
  • There’s blood present in your child’s vomit or diarrhea
  • There’s drainage in your child’s ear
  • Vomiting or diarrhea persists for more than two days


If your child reports feeling ill, but isn’t displaying symptoms, Dr. Torbert says it’s generally OK to send him/her to school. But call the school nurse and office to alert them of your child’s morning complaints. Request an immediate update if there are any changes in your child’s wellness or behavior. Ask if you can send along cough drops (depending on your child’s age) and a water bottle so your child can drink plenty of fluids and accompany these items with a note to avoid any misunderstanding.