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Infant Illnesses & Week in Review

Dear Debi,
How can I manage my frustration so I don’t get angry with my kids?
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • In most instances, ear tugging does not indicate an ear infection.
  • Trouble breathing or wheezing is not normal. Call your pediatrician immediately.
  • Signs of teething include increased drooling and mouthing. Infants will be fussy and irritable.
  • Yellow or green mucus is common and not always a sign of a secondary infection.
  • Petroleum jelly can help prevent diaper rash. Over-the-counter diaper cream with zinc oxide helps treat a rash.
Week in Review
Don’t forget about the great things that we learned this week:
Expert Advice
Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann
Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann
From a cold to an upset tummy, figuring out what to do when your baby gets sick can sometimes be confusing. Here are answers to some often-asked questions that parents and child care providers have regarding common infant illnesses.

My baby has a cold and he’s tugging at his ears. What does this mean?
This is a common question that I get asked at least once a day. Parents and caregivers are concerned that an infant tugging on his or her ears means the child has an ear infection. Generally speaking, ear tugging is not a good indicator of an ear infection. If your child has a cold, signs of an ear infection would be if they're getting increasingly fussy or they're developing a fever or they're refusing to eat or drink. If any of those things are happening, then you should see your pediatrician so they can check your child’s ears.

If my baby has diarrhea, how long should I wait before taking him to the doctor?
Parents are always concerned about their infants’ poop. Dehydration is the most common concern. That's what I'm worried about when parents call me and they tell me that their child has diarrhea. Most cases of diarrhea are caused by a virus. A virus can cause diarrhea to last anywhere from a couple days up to an entire week. What you want to watch for is if your child is not keeping fluids down, if they're vomiting, if they have a high fever, if they're really not acting well, or if there's any blood in the stool, then you definitely need to see your pediatrician. Otherwise if your infant's drinking well and acting fine, you can give it a couple of days to a week. Usually you want to just let diarrhea run its course when you're dealing with an infant.

My baby has a cold and now she's out of breath and wheezing. Is that normal?
Trouble breathing and wheezing is never normal. That's a sign that you should immediately call your pediatrician and take your child in for a visit. Kids can get the common cold every couple of weeks during the winter. They can get up to 11 a year. During the summer, kids are pretty healthy but during the winter, children that are in day care or infants who have older siblings that are in school may get sick as often as every 2 to 3 weeks. You don't always need to call your pediatrician for every cold, but if there are ever signs of trouble breathing or wheezing, then that's a sign to call your physician immediately.

How can I tell if my baby is teething or has a cold?
When infants teethe, it can be very uncomfortable for them. Their gums are very tender and sore. Sometimes that's when they'll kind of play with their ears because they feel a little bit of discomfort, but they don't really know where it's coming from. With teething, most commonly you'll see a lot of drool and a lot of mouthing. They'll want to kind of suck on their hands, suck on a pacifier or a blankie or a toy. Often infants will be kind of fussy and irritable. But if they have a cold, that's when you usually have the runny nose, the cough, the fever. You won't get any of those signs with teething.

My niece’s mucus has recently changed from clear to yellow. Should I be concerned?
Parents always get concerned about mucus. They'll call and say, "It's green, it's yellow. What do I do?" In general, when you get a cold, your mucus can be any color. It can be clear, yellow or green. The color is not always a sign of a secondary infection that may need antibiotics. It's more the time course of that illness. If a mom calls me and says that her infant has had a clear, runny nose for three or four days and now has a fever, is irritable, and the mucus is turning yellow or green, then that's a child I want to see because it could be a sign that there's a secondary infection. If the cold starts off with yellow mucus and the child's acting fine, then give it a couple of days to a week. It's probably going to clear up on its own.

How can you cure diaper rash?
Often the best way to treat diaper rash is to prevent it from happening. Initially, in the first month, I like to tell moms to put a coat of Vaseline – petroleum jelly – on their baby's bottom. Petroleum jelly helps prevent diaper rash and makes the stool wipe off really easily. Kids will get diaper rashes as they get older very commonly because there's a lot of irritation going on down there. There's urine, stool, and the diaper – things that are irritating to the skin. You can get secondary infections sometimes with a yeast or fungus very easily. So the first thing I usually say is pick up some over-the-counter diaper cream with zinc oxide. Anything with zinc oxide is good to put on when your child starts getting a little bit red with every diaper change. If the rash isn't improving with over-the-counter treatment, then you may need to call or see your pediatrician, because there may be a secondary infection that needs a special medication.

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