Signs of Illness

signs of illness

It doesn’t take a mother very long to discover when one of her youngsters feels sick. She can usually spot trouble in the time it takes to wink an eyelid. She can sense that something is wrong by the way her child looks at her, or gets out of bed, or talks or walks. Mothers are pretty smart people when it comes to knowing their children. There are certain signs that a child doesn’t feel well, and most boys and girls, when sick, will show one or more signs of illness.


The normal temperature is 98.6° Fahrenheit. When a youngster is ill, the temperature often goes up as high as 101, 102, 103 or 104, or even more degrees. One can tell exactly how much fever there is by placing a thermometer in a child’s mouth or rectum. However, mothers can frequently tell about temperature merely by putting their cheek against their child’s cheek. If it feels hot, she will know immediately that there is a fever.

Fever during an illness is usually a good sign because it shows that the body is getting ready to fight the infection. With fever, a sick person breathes faster and therefore gets more oxygen into the bloodstream. With fever, the heart beats faster, and this gets more blood to the tissues. And blood contains the white blood cells that fight and overcome infections. When the temperature is high, various glands, such as the adrenal glands above the kidneys, secrete more hormones, such as adrenalin. And these hormones help us to fight infections better, too.

Slight infections may cause no increase in temperature or may only cause an increase of one or two degrees. And a minor infection with a slight fever usually lasts only a day or two. Temperatures above 101°F. indicate a somewhat more serious infection, and when a mother notes such a temperature rise, she will insist that her sick child rest in bed. Even when the temperature returns to normal and the infection clears up, a child should stay indoors for an extra day just to be sure the infection is fully controlled.

People with high fever develop great thirst. This is because they perspire a lot when their temperature is high, and the perspiration causes them to lose a great deal of fluid through their skin. For this reason, doctors always tell patients with high fever to drink a lot of fluids to replace what they have lost through sweating.

As a general rule, young children run higher temperatures than older children. When it gets too high, it can usually be brought down by giving such medicines as aspirin or by giving an antibiotic like penicillin. There are other methods, too, of bringing down a high temperature. Some of these are:

  1. Giving a cool sponge bath, sometimes using a little rubbing alcohol.
  2. Placing the child in a tub of cold water.
  3. Giving an enema containing cool water.
  4. Getting the child to drink a large amount of cold liquids.
  5. In hospitals, they sometimes bring down an extremely high fever by placing the patient on a specially cooled blanket. This is called a hypothermia blanket.

Fever is often higher in the afternoon and early evening than it is in the morning. Also, the temperature taken with a rectal thermometer is higher than that taken with a mouth thermometer.

Chills and chilliness

It is strange, but some children with a high fever feel chilly, and occasionally have a chattering of their teeth and a shaking of their body as if they had just come out from a swim in ice-cold water. A chill, or chilly feelings, along with high fever means that the infection is pretty severe. The chill is sometimes caused by some of the germs getting into the bloodstream, or it might mean that some of the toxins (poisons) manufactured by the germs have gotten into the bloodstream.

Anyone who has a chill should be covered with warm blankets. Chills seldom last more than a few minutes. When they are over, the patient may break out in a sweat that is so big that it wets the bedsheets. A boy or girl who has had a real chill with high temperature might just as well face it. He or she will take several days before full recovery from the infection and will have to stay in bed or remain indoors for almost a week, or even more.

Sore Throat 

The normal throat contains large numbers of germs and viruses even when we are perfectly healthy. Many of them, like the streptococcus, influenza and pneumonia germs, and others, could cause illness at any time. It is strange that they don’t more often than they do. Probably, it is because the child’s body successfully resists these germs and keeps them from entering the membranes of the throat. Every once in a while, however, when a child’s resistance is low, the germs do get into the membranes, and the throat becomes sore. In addition, the child may begin to feel sick because the toxins produced by the germs get into the blood.

sore throat

A sore throat is one of earliest signs of illness in many different diseases. It may just mean the beginning of an ordinary cold or grippe or influenza. Sometimes, it means the child has caught a disease like measles or scarlet fever or mumps. Peculiarly, a day or two after the disease takes hold, the sore throat disappears.


Isn’t it curious that some children never get a headache while others get them all the time? There are about fifty different causes of headache, and many times parents and doctors are unable to learn what started a particular headache. We do know, though, that almost anything can bring on a headache if the child is the type who gets them frequently. Fortunately, most headaches disappear by themselves in an hour or two, and if they don’t, ordinary antiheadache pills, like aspirin, are usually all that’s needed in the way of treatment. Of course, if a headache should continue for a whole day, or overnight, even after the child has been given aspirin or some other headache medicine, then the mother will call the doctor to see what the trouble is.

Here are some of the commonest reasons for headache:

  1. Nervousness and upsets, due to worry or caused by disagreements in school or at home, often bring on a headache. Such headaches are called tension headaches. They often seem to affect children who are not completely happy and content in their relations with their friends and parents and sisters and brothers. If tension headaches occur frequently, it is a good idea to find out exactly what is troubling the child. Then it is usually not too difficult to overcome the problem. When that is accomplished the headaches will tend to disappear.
  2. Any infection, such as an infected tooth or sinus or throat or ear, or an illness like measles or chicken pox, or even a heavy cold, may begin with a headache. The higher the temperature, the more likely is the child to have a headache. This type of headache goes away as the child’s general condition improves.
  3. Eyestrain may produce a headache, especially if a child reads for a long time in poor light. Also, looking at television for too long may cause eyestrain and result in a headache.
  4. Overtiredness is a frequent cause of headache. Many youngsters just don’t know when to quit what they are doing and rest. As a result, they get terribly tired and develop severe headaches. it is always a good idea to follow your parents’ advice when they tell you to stop playing and to rest for a while. If you don’t, you may get an unnecessary headache.
  5. Poor ventilation sometimes causes a headache. Often, a child lives and plays in a room without proper ventilation where the windows are closed, the radiator is on full blast, and no fresh air enters the room. Air in such a room is too hot and too dry, and that can easily result in a severe headache. It is best to allow a window to be open at least a little bit, even on a nasty, rainy, or cold day. Also, it is a good idea to see that room air is kept moist. This can be accomplished by having plenty of plants and water-containing vases in a room, or by having a machine known as a humidifier in the room working to supply moisture to the air.
  6. Some boys and girls are so busy with their schoolwork and their playtime activities that they skip breakfast or lunch, or skip their afternoon snack of milk and crackers. A child who gets too hungry may develop a headache. This kind can be easily gotten rid of if the child will remember to eat more regularly.
  7. Some children like to holler and make a lot of noise, or to play the radio or television set much more loudly than is necessary. However, without being aware of it, a good many youngsters are sensitive to loud sounds and may develop a headache if it continues any length of time.
  8. It is natural for most children to move their bowels every day. However, sometimes they skip a day or two, and this might bring on a headachy feeling. This type of headache is not serious and disappears quickly once the child becomes regular again.

A migraine is a special kind of headache that affects just one side of the head and is accompanied by nausea, and sometimes by vomiting. It is common in some families and seems to be inherited. Many doctors think that a migraine is caused by an allergy. An allergy is a particular sensitivity to a substance such as a food or a medicine or the fur of an animal. If a child eats a certain food to which he is allergic, like chocolate, for example, or if he takes a medicine to which he is allergic, he may develop a migraine headache. Occasionally, migraine is brought on by a nervous upset, and of course, this kind of migraine has nothing to do with whether or not the child is allergic.

The migraine headache is very painful, and special medicines must be taken to relieve it. Many attacks last an entire day or even overnight, but they practically never last more than one day.


Pain that lasts for a few hours, or more, is a definite one of main signs of illness that something is wrong. We discussed earlier in this chapter what a sore throat may mean; a pain in the abdomen that continues for several hours may mean that the child has an inflammation of the stomach or intestines or an inflamed appendix; a pain in the back or side may mean that the child has a kidney infection. And of course, we all know that pain is produced when someone strains a muscle or breaks a bone.

Everybody pays attention to a child who complains of pain because young people hate to feel sick and be kept away from the fun of school and play. Parents almost always take their children’s pain seriously and will call a doctor unless the pain goes away by itself in a short time. Do you know that once in a great while a child is foolish and will complain of pain when he really doesn’t have any? If he does that too often his parents might not believe him when he actually does have a pain. And that can cause plenty of trouble, can’t it?

Loss of appetite 

Generally, healthy children love to eat, and most have big appetites. When a child suddenly loses the desire for food and refuses things like hot dogs and hamburgers and ice cream, the chances are that he or she is not feeling too well. Loss of appetite is one of the earliest signs of illness that a child is coming down with some kind of sickness. As a matter of fact, most sicknesses that children get begin with loss of appetite.

Nausea and vomiting

Healthy boys and girls rarely feel sick to their stomachs and vomit. Nausea and vomiting are seen in a great many illnesses in children, even if the illness doesn’t have anything to do with disorder of the stomach or intestines. Of course, if a healthy child stuffs his Stomach with the wrong kinds of food and eats more than he should, he can get sick to his stomach and throw up even if he is otherwise healthy.

Stuffy noses and inflamed eyes 

Lots of illnesses start with a stuffy nose and inflamed eyes. Practically every contagious disease in childhood, including mumps and chicken pox and scarlet fever and measles, begins with a runny, stuffed-up nose and red, teary eyes. Also, the ordinary cold or grippe or flu starts this way, too. Because it occurs in so many different conditions, is not often possible to tell what sickness a child is developing merely because of a stuffy nose and inflamed eyes.


Crankiness, lack of pep, and irritability are often early signs of illness that a youngster is getting sick. Mothers and fathers can frequently tell in a second that something is wrong because their child is behaving differently from his or her usual happy, cheerful, friendly self. Of course, everyone acts grumpy and sour once in a while, but when an active child with a sunny disposition suddenly becomes sad or quiet or cranky or inactive, you can bet your boots that in most instances .that child is about to come down with some sort of illness. When this happens, the mother usually gets busy, and in a jiffy, she takes her child’s temperature and makes an examination to find out what’s behind the change in behavior.

Doctors can tell, in most cases, exactly what sickness a child is developing. It is not difficult because each illness has its own particular signs. For example, there are certain kinds of spots in the throat that appear only when the child has measles; there are certain kinds of sounds a doctor hears through a stethoscope when a child has pneumonia; and there is a certain tense, hard feel to the belly when the child has appendicitis. Of course, all young people must realize how important it is to cooperate with the doctor who is examining them. Some children, because they don’t want to be sick and stay in bed, try to fool the doctor and say that they have no pain when they really do. This is silly because everyone knows that the only reason a doctor examines a child is to find out exactly what is wrong in order to know the proper medicine and treatment. And if a child doesn’t tell the doctor where it hurts, and how much it hurts, it is going to be much more difficult for the doctor to make the right diagnosis and to start the right treatment.