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When to Call the Doctor With a Toddler

The average toddler gets his fair share of bumps, illnesses and fevers. Parents know how to handle the minor scrapes and bruises, but more serious injuries and illnesses are more difficult to assess. Toddlers often have limited communication skills, making it a challenge to determine exactly what is wrong. Calling your child’s doctor can give you peace of mind or help you determine the need for medical attention.


Many commons childhood illnesses work themselves out on their own, but others need medical attention or advice from your physician. Symptoms that become more severe or last longer than normal are cause for concern. For example, a fever that lasts for a day or two with no other severe symptoms is likely nothing to worry about, but a high fever that lasts for several days or stays high without going down warrants a call to the doctor.

If an illness comes along with severe symptoms from the start, you should also give the doctor a call. This includes severe pains, breathing changes, limp body, color changes of the skin or nails, urine or bowel changes, rashes, swelling, eye discharge and swelling or bulging in the belly area or lower. Trust your instincts and what is normal for your toddler when deciding whether to call the doctor.


Minor falls and scrapes are common for toddlers. A more severe fall could cause serious injury to your child. A call to your child’s doctor after a more severe fall or other injury helps you determine the need for medical attention. Minor injuries sometimes develop into more serious situations that need a call to the doctor. If a scrape, cut or other minor injury isn’t healing or starts to look infected, call your child’s doctor.

Behavior Changes

Changes in your toddler’s behavior offer a clue to a potential problem, even if your child is too young to let you know something is wrong. Differences in your child’s sleep, either excessive sleepiness or difficulty sleeping, is a symptom worth a call to the doctor. Other behavior changes to call your child’s doctor about include a general sick look, irritability or excessive crying with no apparent cause.

Time Frame

Severe symptoms that don’t subside likely need immediate attention. If the medical condition starts after your doctor’s regular office hours, check to see if they have an answering service. Some offices hire a third party to answer calls and page a doctor on call for serious calls. Most communities have an Ask-a-Nurse phone line supported by the local hospital. A certified nurse takes your call, allowing you to get a professional opinion on whether your toddler needs medical attention. Urgent care clinics are also available in many communities if your child needs immediate attention but doesn’t need to go to the emergency room.

For less severe symptoms, you can wait until the next day to call the doctor, as long as you watch your toddler’s symptoms to make sure they don’t get worse.

Seek Immediate Attention

Serious medical conditions call for immediate medical attention without a call to the doctor first. A toddler who loses consciousness, has breathing difficulty, has a seizure or swallows something dangerous with immediate negative effects warrants a call to 911. A trip to the emergency room is appropriate for a serious cut, a suspected broken bone, a major fall resulting in hitting the head or swallowing something dangerous while still acting normal.

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