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Too sick for day care? How to know when kids should stay home.

Tips for spotting kids who are too sick for school or day care.

It’s a typical weekday morning. You’re dressed for work, you’ve made lunches, grabbed your keys, forgotten your phone and gone back for it, loaded the kids in the car and strapped the baby in the car seat. And then it happens. One or more of your children vomits. You’re out of sick time and your spouse has a career-making meeting today. Do you roll the dice and drop the kids off or play it safe and keep the sick one(s) home? We’ve got tips to help you make the right decision.

How sick is too sick for school or day care?

Sometimes your child isn’t seriously ill or contagious, but your school or day care’s policy states that his symptoms require you to pick him up. On the other hand, there are times when staying home is a good idea — for your child’s health as well as that of his classmates, teachers or caregivers.

Stay-home signs and symptoms:

  • Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is extremely contagious and easy to spot from the redness of the eye and sticky, crusty discharge over the lids or lashes. Pink eye is usually mild and resolves on its own, but you should seek medical care if your child has moderate to severe eye pain, blurred vision or symptoms that don’t improve. Newborns with pink eye need immediate medical treatment to rule out a more serious infection.
  • A hacking, steady or productive cough is likely to be frowned upon at school or day care. Try a steam vaporizer or cool-mist humidifier to help break up chest congestion. Do not give cough syrup to children younger than 4 years old or adult cough medicine to children over 4.
  • Most of the time, a sore throat is cause by a virus, not bacterial strep. Do what you can, age-appropriately, to soothe the pain with Tylenol or Advil, warm liquids, throat lozenges and vapor rubs.
    • If you suspect strep throat — which may include symptoms such as headache, stomachache, fever and a rash on the throat — visit your pediatrician or local urgent care center for a swab test and antibiotics.
  • A child with tummy troubles — vomiting, diarrhea or a fever combined with stomach pain — is not welcome at school or day care and needs to stay home. Rest, fluids and age-appropriate pain relief medication is the Rx. If symptoms persist for 24 hours, make an appointment to see your doctor.
  • Fever with any of the above is a sign that your child should stay home. High fevers require immediate medical attention, especially in infants and younger children. High fever guidelines:
    • Under 3 months — forehead or rectal temp of 100.4°F
    • 3 months to 4 years — forehead or rectal temp of 102.2°F
    • 4 years and up — fever above 102°F that doesn’t respond to medication, lasts for more than 3 days or is consistently 103°F or higher;

    Manisha Gupta, MD, a Medical City Healthcare emergency medicine physician, discusses when to go to the ER with flu symptoms.

    Teething vs. colds, flu or other illnesses.

    Your day care says your child has a cold or the flu, but you disagree: She’s just teething. While some of the symptoms may be similar and no two children experience teething in the same way, the research is pretty conclusive.

    Your baby is probably teething if she has:

    Fever up to 102°F accompanied by biting, drooling, gum rubbing, irritability and increased sucking. Symptoms typically last only a day or two.

    Your baby is probably not teething if she has:

    Fever up to and over 102°F with symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms typically last several days or more.

    Still think your child’s runny nose is a sign of teething even when your day care says it’s snot? Check the chart below to be sure.

    Amber CradduckAbout Amber

    Amber Cradduck is a mother of two, professional storyteller and part-time CrossFitter. She enjoys podcasts and murder mysteries. An aspiring DIY'er and fixer upper, Amber is a straight shooter trying to find the funny in this crazy journey called parenting.

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