Is It an Emergency? 5 Baby Health Scares

We help you determine whether your child's health scares are as bad as they seem.
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Most incidents are easily treated with common sense and a hug. But sooner or later, you'll encounter a situation that requires real medical attention. "It's not a question of if an accident will happen, but when," explains Lisa Asta, M.D., associate clinical professor of pediatrics at UC San Francisco School of Medicine. Doctors explain whether you should grab the first-aid kit or call 911 when your baby...

Spikes a Fever
It's an emergency if your baby is under 3 months old and his rectal temperature is 100.4? F or higher. Head to the emergency room. Fever in new babies is taken very seriously in part because they haven't gotten most of their vaccinations yet and can quickly get very sick if there's an infection. The big concern here is meningitis, a potentially fatal infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. "We'll do lab work and if the baby is less than 4 weeks old, we'll do a spinal tap to test for meningitis," explains Luke Beno, M.D., staff pediatrician at Cascade Pediatrics in Atlanta. "If he has it, we'll admit him to the hospital."

It's probably not if your baby has passed the 3-month mark and has received his first haemophilus influenza type b and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, which help prevent meningitis. In fact, fever can be a normal reaction to vaccines. However, your child's doctor will most likely start treating the fever if it reaches 101.5?F. Pediatricians may be more aggressive about fever if a child has not been immunized, says Hernando Cardona, M.D., of Windermere Pediatrics, in Orlando. "The higher the fever, or the sicker-looking the child, the greater risk of an acute invasive bacterial infection."

There's no need to do anything if your older baby seems unbothered by fever. If he's fussy, though, some acetaminophen (or ibuprofen for babies 6 months or older) can bring it down, says Dr. Cardona. "I usually advise using a fever reducer and then giving the baby a tepid bath if his temperature hits 102? to 103?F. I suggest keeping him in the water until the fever goes down." This can take as much as a few hours. But if you've used the maximum safe doses of medication and your baby's fever continues to rise, be sure to call your pediatrician. She's very likely to want to see you to determine the cause of the fever and whether treatment is necessary, Dr. Cardona explains.

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