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What's the best way to cope with a sick child on a trip?

What's the best way to cope with a sick child on a trip?

Use the same judgment you would at home. For minor illnesses, you’ll be able to treat most of your child’s symptoms with over-the-counter medications and fluids and by encouraging him to rest. Common ailments to strike traveling children include motion sickness, diarrhea, and skin conditions such as rashes or insect bites. These are usually minor problems, but they do cause some discomfort and irritability.

If your child has a fever but isn’t showing any other symptoms, you can give him children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen and a constant supply of fluids (an electrolyte solution like Pedialyte is best, especially for diarrhea). A simple virus is usually to blame, and your child will feel better in a day or two. (For more recommendations on treating a fever, click here.)

If your child’s fever doesn’t respond to treatment or worsens, or if he shows more serious symptoms, such as vomiting, headache, confusion, ear pain, or extreme sleepiness, you should seek medical attention. When you’re away from home, the simplest way to do this is to go to a hospital emergency room. Generally health insurers will pay for an ER visit for sick travelers, but check with your insurer before you go. Or, if you’re at a hotel and you don’t mind paying out of pocket, you could ask hotel personnel for a recommendation to a local physician. Certain situations, of course, warrant a call for emergency services, including poisoning, choking, a serious allergic reaction, an asthma attack, or trauma or injury resulting from an accident.

To best safeguard your child’s health while you’re on the road, prepare before you leave home:

• Keep a well-stocked first-aid kit in your car or carry-on bag.

• If your child regularly takes a medication (like an anticonvulsant or insulin) or has asthma or an allergy to bee stings, bring twice as much medication as you think you’ll need. As a precautionary measure, pack the supplies in two different places (for example, put one set in a suitcase and one in your purse) in case one set gets lost. Also, ask your pediatrician to write a refill prescription before leaving home so you can skip that step while traveling.

• Always carry your insurance information with you. Most HMOs will reimburse you for out-of-area expenses, but to avoid any expensive surprises, call your insurance company ahead of time and find out its policy.

• Know your child’s medical history. Get in the habit of taking a notebook with you every time your child visits the pediatrician, and bring it with you on vacation, too. The notebook should contain an emergency checklist with contact numbers as well as information about your child’s past illnesses, treatments, vaccinations, and any allergies.

As well as covering all the medical bases, you’ll want to put some extra effort into your bedside manner with a sick child. Being sick is never fun, but being away from home adds an element of emotional discomfort. To help soothe your child, stay nearby and keep to the same comforting routines as at home, if possible. Read him a bedtime story, or, if he feels up to it, run a bath for him. Some routines can be broken, though, especially if it will help make your child feel better. You might consider allowing him to sleep with you or nearby while he’s feeling sick. You can monitor his health more easily, and he’ll fall asleep — and wake up — feeling more secure knowing you’re right beside him.

Daphne Miller
family physician
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