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Spotting Serious Illness in Children

It can be tricky to know when your child needs medical care, including who to contact and when. It is important you trust your instincts and get the help your child needs. Not getting the advice and treatment at the right time could put your child at risk of serious illness.

If your child already has a health condition (like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy) look out for warning signs that their condition is less well controlled. Follow the advice given to you by the medical team that look after your child.

Some serious problems may appear and you won’t be sure if they are due to COVID-19. Always contact your GP or 111 if you are worried about any new sign or symptom. Your GP is available for you too talk to on the phone and they can video call you too. If your GP or nurse advises you that your child needs be seen and checked, it will always be at a safe place to attend.

Below is some information on different conditions. One symptom on its own may not always be serious. BUT use this information as an idea on what symptoms to look out for and who to contact.Some might be a sign that your child could be seriously ill and your child needs to go to the hospital’s emergency department (A&E).

One symptom within a group below: talk to a health professional for advice today.

More than one symptom within a group below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

  • One symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today. 

    More than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • The headache and/or stiff neck seems worse WHEN WAKING UP or LYING DOWN.  
    • The headache or stiff neck may come and go and be worse with bending over or coughing.  
    • May be feeling sick and being sick.
    • Change in behaviour: unsettled and clingy / sleepy / difficult to wake up.
    • Eye changes: crossed / downward gaze – or anything that is different to usual.
    • If younger than 18 months the soft spot (on the top of the head) feels full or tight.
    • Child or young person may have had an injury e.g. falling off of bed.
  • One symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today. 

    More than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • Tummy pain coming and going but becoming more constant.  
    • May start round the belly button and move down or it may feel like the pain is everywhere.
    • No poos or wind.
    • Any blood or mucus in their poo.
    • Tummy looks bigger or swollen.
    • Hot or shivery or sweaty.
    • Not eating much or at all or drinking much.
    • Feeling sick and being sick.

    In boys if they have lower tummy pain, are feeling sick or being sick and maybe a fever (high temperature and feel hot) check if the pain is coming from the scrotum (balls). This is not common but it can happen after exercise or an injury to the groin. The symptoms often start in the night or first thing in the morning.

  • One symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today. 

    More than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • Vomiting - being sick   
    • Diarrhoea - runny poo
    • Headache
    • Looking pale and tired
    • Feeling faint

    If you also notice swelling - including on the legs, feet and ankles or any unexplained bruises please contact your GP or 111 straight away. 


  • If your baby has a fever and is less than three months old, even if they have no other symptoms, contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    A fever and one symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today.

    A fever and more than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • Temperature of 40 or getting worse accompanied by shivering.
    • Your child’s temperature drops below 35 (Normal is 37).
    • Your child develops a rash that looks like small purple dots that do not go away when you apply pressure with your fingers (blanching). 
    • Your child is not able to keep down drinks, is not weeing or nappies seem drier.
    • Your child's skin looks pale or grey, or is cool or mottled or sweaty.
    • Your child is in constant pain
    • Your child has a fit and a high temperature / feels hot for the first time or a long fit with a temperature/ feeling hot.   
    • Your child seems confused or delirious or just very sleepy
    • Your child does not use their arm or leg normally or refuses to stand up
    • Your child cries constantly and cannot be settled.
    • Your child has problems breathing or fast breathing. Average:
    1. Under 1 year old - 50 breaths in a minute 
    2. Over 1 year old - 30 breaths in a minute

    Always let the Doctor know if your child has not had any vaccinations / is not immunised and they have any of these symptoms.

  • One symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today. 

    More than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • Constant wheezing or cough.   
    • Changes in your child's colour, like bluish or grey lips and fingernails.
    • Trouble talking and can't speak in full sentences.
    • The areas below the ribs, between the ribs, and in the neck visibly pull in during breaths in (called retractions).


  • Contact you GP straight away or 111 out of hours if your child becomes;

    • More thirsty than usual.
    • Is weeing a lot more and is going to the toilet more.
    • Getting thinner.
    • Is very tired.

    Call 999/ go to hospital emergency department (A&E) straight away if as well as the above;

    • Your child's breath smells like pear drops.
    • Your child becomes confused.
    • Breathes more deeply and quickly.
    • May have stomach pains and is sick  .


What It's Like When You Visit Health Services

NHS services are still available to take care of you and make sure you get the advice and care you need. 

You might be worried that you could catch COVID-19 by using health services. All NHS services are carefully following all the advice to protect you and them from the virus. Your safety is very important and all services are acting to keep risks low. This might mean some services are being delivered in a different way like by the phone or video call. They may be moved to different places.

Make sure you have face coverings to wear for everyone over the age of 11 who is going to the appointment. You will need them at the clinic as well as on public transport if used.  *Click here*  to find out more about face coverings.

  • Your GP service is still available for you to talk to on the phone. Call them and they will let you know how they will make sure you get the help you need.

    They may be able to help you over the phone or using video call. If they need to see you they will tell you when and where to attend.

    You can be confident that they will do all they can to keep the risk of coronavirus as low as possible.

  • If it is an emergency call 999 – It is an emergency when a person’s life may be in danger. Some reasons you might call for an ambulance are;

    •  Chest pain and /or difficulty in breathing.
    •  There has been an accident and a person is unconscious and/ or bleeding heavily, badly burnt or scalded.
    •  Choking - find out more *here*.
    •  Drowning - find out more *here*.
    •  Fitting / Seizures - find out more *here*.
    •  Severe allergic reactions - find out more *here*.

    If someone is having a mental health crisis and are an immediate danger to themselves or others you should also call 999.

  • You might be able to find the advice you need online. Be careful to stick to trusted websites like NHS online.

    We have a lot of information on caring for your family on Just One Norfolk *here*.

    If you still have questions or still feel worried get in touch with health services.

  • The 111 service is still available. If you need advice or are not sure of the best service for you 111 can help.

    •  If you are able to get online use this to contact 111 first of all *here*.
    •  If you cannot go online, or if they advise you to, call 111 by phone.

    111 can advise you on self-care. They will direct you to your GP, a local pharmacy, walk-in centre, the emergency department or arrange for an ambulance if required.

    If the ill person’s condition is getting much worse whilst waiting to speak to a 111 professional and you are worried it is life threatening – call 999.

  • You can access mental health care as an emergency, through 111 and GP services. There is also direct access to mental health care.

    Mental Health Services

    You can find services for children and young people up to age 25 and self refer *here*.

    NSFT First Response

    24/7 immediate advice, support and signposting for people with mental health difficulties in Norfolk and Suffolk

    Phone: 0808 196 3494

    The mental health of you and your family is still just as important and you should get in touch if you, or your child, are struggling.

  • Your local pharmacy is also there to support you and your family. *Click Here* to find a local pharmacy.

    Pharmacists are qualified to give advice on minor health problems and injuries. They can give advice on medications and how to use them.

    You should not go to a pharmacy if you have symptoms of COVID-19 (high temperature and/or new cough) or are self isolating.

  • There are no routine dental appointments during the coronavirus outbreak. But you can still get treatment if you have toothache. Call your Dental Practice for advice.

    If you do not have a registered dentist contact 111 - online if you can or by phone if that is not possible.

    We have a page on caring for your teeth during the outbreak *here*.


Who Can Help?

If you are not sure whether your child is seriously unwell, call 111 or your GP for advice. Remember that you know your child best. If you think your child is seriously unwell call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E department.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below. 

The Lullaby Trust - Baby Check App - This app has simple checks that you can do if your baby is ill and helps you think about whether they need to see a doctor or health professional.






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