"Mommy, my belly hurts." It was the first thing my daughter said when she woke up yesterday morning. I immediately felt her forehead. Burning up. I asked her where it hurt. She pointed to her belly button. I scooped her up while running through the flu checklist in my head: Fever, nausea, chills, fatigue. Like most parents navigating flu season, I started to worry, "When should I call the doctor?" It's tricky because the culprit behind children's belly aches isn't always easy to discern. Well, here's what it means this flu season if your child says their stomach hurts.
"I think the most important thing for a parent to do when their child complains of a stomachache, or any other complaint for that matter, is to closely observe their child," Texas-based Dr. Eboni Hollier, who is board-certified in both general and developmental and behavioral pediatrics, tells Romper in an email interview. "This observation should include looking at their activity level, appetite, and overall behavior. If their child is behaving typically in these areas, it is unlikely that their parent has anything to worry about."
On the other hand, Hollier says, if your child is less active, has lost their appetite, and/or generally appears unwell, closer monitoring and possibly seeking medical attention may be warranted. "Additionally, it is important to check your child for other symptoms that may be related to stomach pain such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation," she says, adding that other flu-related symptoms could be a fever, cough, and runny nose.
Dr. Darria Long Gillespie agrees, adding that it's important to note that stomach pain "isn’t the classic, tell-all symptom for the on-set of influenza. There are a lot of other viruses floating around right now that cause stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea, and other related symptoms," she tells Romper in an email interview. "So, if your child’s predominant complaint is stomach pain, it’s probably not influenza."
That being said, Gillepsie notes, some children, especially those who are very young, don’t always identify their symptoms very well. For instance, they may feel body aches, but talk to you about their tummy hurting. Gillepsie says younger children — approximately ages 3 to 4 years old — may also have more atypical symptoms of influenza, like vomiting and diarrhea. "But still most — over 70 percent — of kids with the flu will still also have fever, cough, and runny nose, in addition to any atypical symptoms like stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea."
Hollier says influenza in otherwise healthy children, although uncomfortable, is "generally uncomplicated and they tend to feel better in about one week."
Certain signs and symptoms, however, are more worrisome in populations that are considered to be high risk, including children younger than 2 years old (particularly those less than 6 months old), as well as those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, chronic heart or lung disease, and any condition that lowers immunity such as cancer, Hollier says.
Other red flags include a temperature above 102 degrees Fahrenheit in children between 3 and 36 months and a temperature above 104 degrees Fahrenheit for children older than 36 months, Gillepsie says. Both instances should prompt parents to call their pediatrician.
"Regardless of temperature, if your child isn’t acting right, being lethargic, breathing really quickly or short of breath, or simply has any other symptom that as a parent you think isn’t right and worries you, call your pediatrician immediately," she says. "Never underestimate your own parent instinct — if something doesn’t seem right to you, you know your child better than anyone — and should seek care." Because mama truly does know best.
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