If you have a toddler in your household, then you know that their hands are a virtual petri dish of germs and mysterious sticky substances. So it's somewhat understandable that your, "I'm going to put everything I see in my mouth," child catches the occasional bug from time to time. Since this cold and flu season has been quite intense, it can be difficult to determine exactly what type of virus or bug your tot may have caught. Fortunately there are actually a few distinct signs your toddler has a stomach bug, and not something else. Thankfully, the differences between the two are fairly easy to spot — once you know what symptoms to look out for in your little one.
That's not to say that a stomach virus is a walk in the park either. Trust me when I say I have experienced my fair share of blowouts, soaked sheets, and projectile puking — which can all be blamed on gastroenteritis, the nasty stomach bug, and is most commonly caused by the virus norovirus. Who knew so much gross stuff could come out of such a tiny human, am I right? So if you're wondering whether or not your little one's upset tummy warrants a check-up to rule out anything more serious, check out these handy ways to spot the difference.
1. They Only Cough After Vomiting
Not counting any mid or post-puke coughing, stomach bugs rarely have any respiratory involvement, as the official website for the Mayo Clinic noted. I know how tricky it can be to differentiate between a gagging cough and a chest or productive cough. But if your little one's bouts of coughing or irritated throats only occur after vomiting, then it's fairly safe to rule out a respiratory virus, like influenza (the flu).
2. They Have Solely Stomach-Related Issues
The official website for the Alberta Health Services noted that, with a stomach bug, the symptoms are primarily limited to the digestive system. So if your little one's illness seems to mainly affect their tummy and not the rest of their body, then you can bet that a stomach virus is behind your toddler's upset digestive system symptoms.
3. They Throw Up...
This may be an obvious one, but as the aforementioned Mayo Clinic article noted, "nausea, vomiting, or both," are signs of a stomach virus, such as gastroenteritis. You'll probably have to hunker down in the bathroom for a while, or at least have an empty garbage set up next to their bed.
4. ...And They Blow Out
You don't typically have one symptom without the other. But, according to the Mayo Clinic, "watery, usually non-bloody diarrhea," is a sign of a stomach bug whether or not your child is vomiting, too. Just remember that they are still losing liquid and their bodily fluids should be replenished: start with clear fluids, and give them a little bit at a time to ensure that it stays down, recommended Claire McCarthy, MD, in Harvard Health Publishing.
5. They Have Mild Headaches — If At All
Though headaches can occur with many different kinds of viruses, they are markedly more severe when the influenza virus is to blame — not a gastrointestinal virus. A small or intermittent headache is a common symptom of stomach bugs, as opposed to other viruses, as Kids Health, an informational website from Nemours Children Health System, noted. Keeping your child hydrated and cool is one way to ease their discomfort.
6. They Have A Low-Grade Fever
Your child is very unlikely to develop a high temperature with a stomach bug, as the official website for the Mayo Clinic reported. Even in the worst case scenario, you're still only looking at a low-grade fever with your tot's tummy virus. If their temperature does spike, then you might want to check with their pediatrician to rule out anything else that could be potentially serious, like the flu.
7. They Can't Stop The Symptoms
With viruses like the flu, your toddler may have varying degrees of nauseousness or a decreased appetite — which is totally normal since their tiny bodies have been through a lot. On the other hand, Dr. Joshua Kosowsky, the vice chair and clinical director of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s emergency department, explained to Boston that, with a stomach virus, a top symptom is a persistent feeling of nausea and vomiting or diarrhea. So if your kiddo's queasiness doesn't seem to ease up at all, then they likely have a stomach bug.
When treating the stomach bug, hydration is key. "For the first twenty-four hours or so of any illness that causes vomiting, keep your child off solid foods, and encourage [them] to drink small amounts of electrolyte solution or clear fluids such as water," recommended Healthy Kids. Since every child is different, it's best to ask your family doctor how many ounces of fluid your sick kiddo should be drinking (and how often).
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