August 30, 2012

Dr. Mom: How sick is too sick for school?

Raise your hand if the first week of school has barely begun and you have a sick kiddo.

Raise your hand if the first week of school has barely begun and you have a sick kiddo.

Wouldn't it be great if our kids could simply tell us 30 minutes before rushing them out the door for school that they are indeed too sick for school? Instead, it can be difficult to tell if your child simply has a mild cold or if something more is brewing.

We were barely on Day Two of school when my son proclaimed he had a sore throat upon waking up.

I had 20 minutes to decide: sick day or off to school he goes?

So, in efforts to make the sick-day call easier here are some instances when you will say "Yes" to a sick day:

Fever of 100.4 or higher

While fever itself is actually a good sign (it means your child's body is doing its job in fighting off an infection), it also means your child is at his peak of contagiousness. In addition, when that fever starts to climb (102 degrees or higher), children typically start to feel fairly lousy.

It's best for your child to be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to school. Please don't administer an antipyretic and send him out the door. It's just not fair to your child or his classmates.

Severe cough

Any cough that has kept your child up most of the night or is making it difficult for her to catch her breath warrants a sick day and a visit to her pediatrician.

Sore throat and fever

Sore throat alone is no reason to start canceling your day. Most sore throats are the worst in the morning even if they're due to minor viral upper respiratory infections. However, a severe, lasting sore throat accompanied by a fever, headache, and/or stomachache could signal a strep throat infection. In that case, start making those phone calls and get your child in to see his doctor.

Eye goop

Pink eye comes in a couple of varieties: the yellow-green gooey kind and the clear, watery kind. And you probably guessed it: The goop is what's going to keep your little one home until those antibiotic eye drops are started.

Vomiting and/or diarrhea

This is pretty self-explanatory. Just remember to keep your little one well- hydrated with frequent sips of clear liquids throughout the day. Once she has kept everything down for at least 24 hours, she is good to go.

Significant pain

Pain anywhere on your child's body that interferes with his daily activities warrants a trip to the doctor and a sick day.

Suspicious rash

The majority of rashes are not themselves contagious.

But if your child has a rash that leaves you scratching your head (and she, her skin), have it checked out first. Rashes like impetigo and that caused by chickenpox are contagious and need to have been treated and/or resolved before heading back to class. In general, any rash with vesicles or which ooze are of the contagious variety.


This shouldn't keep your child out for more than a day. Once treatment has been started, with daily nit combing and nit checks, your child can safely return to school.

With these tips, you now know some conditions that you can confidently say "yes, this is a sick day" during your rushed morning shuffle. Back-to-school means back to plenty of sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. We won't always get it right, and that's OK.

As for my son, he made it to school that day. His sore throat evolved into a mild cold.

And back to school we go.

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