Nighttime is Prime Time for Sick Children

There’s something about nighttime that magnifies the urgency of an illness. Although it’s never a good time for your child to be sick, when the illness strikes at night, it seems to increase the sense of concern and panic inherent in parents. Being awakened by the sound of sick children – whether it’s crying, whining or coughing – is an ominous wake-up call. Perhaps it’s the half-groggy, exhausted mood with which you approach your child or the fact that fever and other symptoms seem to carry extra weight in the nighttime hours; whatever it is, nighttime seems to be the prime time for illness. The added frustration of being out of immediate reach to your family physician doesn’t help matters.

Fortunately, most symptoms of common childhood illnesses rarely worsen to the point of urgency during the nighttime hours, although your child may feel particularly miserable. In most cases, at-home comfort and a dose of meds, a similar routine to what you would do during the daytime, is adequate. If you’re awakened by your sick kid, the first thing you’ll want to do is take their temperature and check to see how they’re breathing. An alarmingly high fever and breathing problems are two symptoms that you won’t want to wait out until morning. Instead, call your doctor or take a trip to the emergency room. Use your parental instinct for any other potentially dangerous symptoms.

In cases where your child isn’t facing a medical emergency, look to home treatment to ease the pain so both of you can get some rest. Even though symptoms don’t technically worsen at night, your child may feel worse because rest and sleep can sometimes bring these issues to the forefront. Nasal passages swell during sleep, for example, which can create drainage problems, especially in a nose that’s already stopped up. In this case, have your child blow their nose until the passages are clear, then use saline nose drops to help keep them as clear as possible. Antihistamines won’t help unless the stuffy nose is due to allergies, and it is debatable whether or not decongestants are effective. Most physicians agree that you’re better off with the saline drops.

Laying down also increases the collection of fluid in the ears, which can put increased pressure on any inflamed tissue. If your child suffered from an earache during the day, it may feel worse at night. To relieve the ache, try ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Apply a warm, damp washcloth to your child’s ear. If the pain continues with little relief, contact your doctor in the morning. Most earaches clear up on their own, but in cases of certain infection, antibiotics may be needed.

Tummy problems typically don’t worsen when the sun goes down, although it may seem like they do because you’re groggy and tired when trying to deal with them. If your child starts vomiting in the night, it can be troubling but isn’t necessarily serious. If the discharge is green, bloody or accompanied by increasing pain the abdomen, you may want to seek urgent care. If there seems to be no other serious symptoms other than nausea, it can probably wait until morning. Try over-the-counter remedies and call the doctor in the morning, especially if the problem persists.

Nighttime is a challenge for parents of sick children, and for the sick kids themselves. In most cases the problems aren’t urgent, but if your instinct senses that immediate care is needed, seek it out. For parents, peace of mind is sometimes the best medicine.

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