How Sick is Too Sick For School

It’s one of parenting’s many dilemmas – is my child well enough to go to school?  We all want our children to be resilient, but it is not uncommon for kids and teens to pretend to be ill in order to avoid something unpleasant at school like a test or a boring assembly.  So how is a parent to know when to send him versus when to keep him home?

“Everyone, especially children, will experience illness from time to time. As parents, we not only want to do what is best for our children but also help minimize the spread of illness to others,” explains White-Wilson Medical Center Niceville Pediatrician Dr. Kyle Simmers. “Even once the symptoms have passed, it may still be best to keep your child at home.”

According to Dr. Simmers, there are specific symptoms to look for when deciding whether or not your child should stay home from school or daycare.  These symptoms include:

  • A fever of 100.4° F or above – Many times, a fever means your child is fighting some kind of illness. A fever may also mean your child is contagious. Keeping them home until 24 hours after the fever breaks will make sure your child is on the mend and reduce the risk of spreading illness to other kids.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea – Multiple instances of vomiting or diarrhea within a short period of time usually mean something is up. While it could be something innocuous, consistent bouts of vomiting and/or diarrhea are a warning sign and can be very contagious. As is the case of a fever, a child should go 24 hours without an occurrence before returning to school.
  • Pain such as a headache, ear pain, abdominal pain or sore throat, especially when accompanied by other symptoms – Pain and discomfort can keep your child from concentrating during class, but more importantly, when accompanied by other symptoms like a fever, may be a sign of something bigger. Parents should monitor a child complaining of pain and visit a doctor immediately if you become concerned.
  • Uncontrolled coughing – As with some of the previous symptoms, uncontrolled coughing can make it difficult for a child to pay attention in class and may disrupt the classroom environment. Furthermore, an uncontrolled cough, or any other symptom that may affect your child’s breathing, should be watched closely in case something more serious is going on.
  • Rashes and red eyes – While a child may not complain about these symptoms, they could be a sign of something contagious. A pediatrician should always examine unexplained rashes and red eyes. They may not be particularly uncomfortable for a child at first, but they may worsen or spread.
  • Head lice – Lice can be transferred from child to child. Once lice are spotted it is important to treat your child with approved over the counter or prescription medications as soon as possible and to monitor lice activity. The Center for Disease Control offers guidelines on how to treat your family and home for lice and you should check with your child’s school regarding their policy for when a child may return after treatment.

If you are unsure if your child should stay home or not, Dr. Simmers suggests contacting your pediatrician’s office. They can provide advice, and in many cases, see you the same day. It is best to work with your pediatrician to determine the appropriate steps to help your child feel better and to stop the spread of illnesses.

Dr. Simmers is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and practices at the White-Wilson Pediatric Clinic in Niceville, Florida. He is now accepting new patients. The White-Wilson Pediatric Clinic in Niceville is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Same day appointments are available.

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