Four childhood illnesses to watch out for

Children’s curiosity about the world around them is one of the most important ways they learn. But as they get older, there’s a good chance that, as they pick up language, coordination, and understanding, they’ll also pick up a few germs. This is a normal part of growing up, but it does mean that there’s a good chance you’ll end up having to field your fair share of childhood illnesses as your little one grows.


It’s easy to dismiss the common cold – even the name the common cold sounds less than serious. A bad cold can ruin even the healthiest adult’s week, though. Between the aches and pains, coughing, congestion, headache, sneezing, and runny or stuffy nose, having a cold just feels bad, and that’s especially true for babies and toddlers, who don’t know why they suddenly feel so bad, and who already have a naptime, so spending the day in bed doesn’t feel as special as it does for adults.

You can use saline nasal spray or a bulb syringe to help clear out the nasal passages of a tiny stuffy nose, which can be one of the most uncomfortable symptoms of a cold, or use a humidifier in the room to help fight congestion. And when it comes to children and medication, it’s always a good idea to consult with the pediatrician first.

While a cold by itself generally isn’t anything to worry about in young children, when colds last a while, there’s a chance they may turn into bronchitis, croup, or pneumonia, any of which may need medical treatment. This means it’s important to keep a close eye on colds, and especially on rising fever and more severe cough, which can be symptoms of these more serious illnesses, and wheezing, which is a sign to immediately contact a medical provider.

And when it comes to children and medication, it’s always a good idea to consult with the pediatrician first.


Children as young as six months old can and should receive a yearly flu vaccine under a healthcare provider’s guidance, since the best way to treat influenza is to keep the infection from taking hold to begin with. However, since there are different strains of the flu, a vaccine is not a guarantee of avoiding the flu.

Most children get better from the flu without having to see a doctor, but children with some health conditions, like asthma or diabetes, have a higher chance of having trouble with the flu, and may need extra medical support. As with many other illnesses, when treating the flu at home, the most important things to keep in mind are making sure your little patient gets lots of rest and fluids, so that their immune system has the tools it needs, and to keep an eye out for warning signs, like high fever, that might mean that your child needs medical attention. Antiviral treatment can help shorten the length of the flu if it’s given in the first 24 to 48 hours, so it’s important to contact a healthcare provider if you suspect the flu, especially if another family member has the flu already.

Check your health plan benefit for information about possible coverage of the flu vaccine if you receive it at your provider or participating flu vaccine pharmacy.

Other viral illnesses

There are plenty of viral illnesses that a little one who wants to explore the world with their finger (or mouth) might pick up. The tricky thing about viral illnesses is that, whether they can be identified or not, many of them can’t be treated with antibiotics. This means young children with viral infections rely exclusively on home care, rest, and their own immune systems for recovery. This can be stressful for the parents doing the home caring. If this gets overwhelming, it’s a good idea to reach out to a friend or family member who can help you deal with the stress.

There are cases when young children with viral infections should receive medical care, especially in the case of high fever. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should call a doctor right away for fevers of 104◦ F (40 C), or fevers that last more than 24 hours in children younger than two years old. Most symptoms don’t have such easily measurable cut-off points, though.  You should speak with your or your little one’s healthcare provider to better prepare for the common illnesses that children deal with.

Strep throat

Strep throat is characterized by an intense sore throat and red and swollen tonsils, as well as fever, headache, nausea and other general symptoms of illness. But not all, or even most sore throats are strep. Strep throat is caused by a specific bacterial infection, and unlike viral infections, it should be treated with medicine to keep it from becoming more serious.

Your child’s pediatrician will be able to test for strep. If the test is positive, they’ll prescribe an antibiotic. If the illness turns out to be a viral infection rather than strep, they’ll recommend careful home care instead. Depending on the symptoms, you may be able to use a virtual care platform. Virtual care isn’t right for every situation — and if there’s an emergency, you should still visit an ER or dial 911 — but it can be useful for things like checking up on a cold or the flu. Check your health plan benefits for details about coverage for virtual care.

To review the specifics of your health plan, find a doctor or pharmacy, download a digital ID card, and much more, log in to your secure account. You can also call Member Services at the number on the back of your health plan ID card (TTY: 711).

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