Knowing when to seek medical care for your baby can sometimes be a distressing experience for parents.
It’s a story that will resonate with most first-time parents: Your baby awakes in the night, feverish, crying or with an unusual rash. For many families, these late-night medical situations can present a problem. Do you rush to Emergency, or wait until the morning to visit your regular GP?
In these cases, a house call doctor may be the best solution after-hours. In-home GPs can administer non-critical medical care, in the privacy of your own home. These services are often bulk-billed, and can reduce the strain on Emergency departments, as well as the stress of having to endure lengthy hospital queues.
According to Dr Ryan Harvey from House Call Doctor, the top five reasons that new parents request a GP after-hours are as follows:
1. Coughs and colds
Your baby’s cough might hint at a respiratory tract infection, which is incredibly common among young families.
“Respiratory infections impact children and the elderly most severely,” explains Dr Harvey. “Coughs are easily passed from one family member to another. Upper respiratory tract infections are most prevalent, with symptoms including a fever, sore throat, runny or blocked nose, and a dry cough. In contrast, lower respiratory infections typically impact the lungs. These patients may experience a cough that produces phlegm, or shortness of breath."
“Some examples of lower respiratory tract infections might include bronchitis or pneumonia,” says Dr Harvey. “These infections need to be assessed by a doctor, in case antibiotics should be prescribed. Sometimes, referral to a hospital for higher care might be necessary.”
In one of the more frightening experiences for first-time parents, a viral infection called croup can cause swelling throughout the upper and lower airways.
“Croup is particularly prevalent amongst young children,” says Dr Havey. “At first it can present as a harsh, barking cough or hoarse voice. In extreme cases, croup can cause your child’s breathing to be wheezy or even restricted. Treatment may require steroids, so a doctor’s assessment is crucial.”
A fever involves an abnormally high body temperature, along with shivering or headaches. In extreme cases, a fever can even cause delirium.
“Fevers are a very visual sign that something is not right,” says Dr Harvey. “Understandably, this can be a worry for parents." Whilst a fever is the body’s natural response to infection, it’s important to seek medical attention and determine whether antibiotics are needed.”
Your baby’s fever could hint at a viral illness, or common infection impacting the gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract or skin.
House Call Doctors can bulk-bill visits to Australian residents, who are Medicare or DVA Card holders.
3. Rashes and skin conditions
“Your baby’s skin is constantly being exposed to new elements,” says Dr Harvey. “Anything from the sun to different bacteria could trigger a skin reaction. For this reason, house call doctors are often called upon to diagnosis skin conditions after-hours.”
Rashes can develop from a variety of causes, including everything from infection and viral illness, to allergic reactions or insect bites. In rare cases, rashes can point towards more serious conditions such as meningitis, sepsis or leukaemia.
“Many rashes can wait a day or so for diagnosis,” says Dr Harvey. “However certain rashes, especially those coupled by a fever, can require urgent action.”
Presuming your baby seems otherwise in good health, a ‘tumbler test’ can be a helpful method of determining the severity of a rash. To take the ‘tumbler test,’ press a clean drinking glass against your baby’s rash. Peer through the glass and look at your baby’s skin.
If the rash disappears against the pressure of the glass, it’s unlikely to be a severe skin condition. If the rash is still visible however, your baby should receive immediate medical attention.
4. Headache and earache
Headaches are very common, and the majority result from benign causes. In most cases, treatment simply involves paracetamol, ibuprofen and rest.
However, some people can suffer from migraines that cause debilitating pain and nausea. In these cases, strong pain relief or medical intervention may be required.
“Obviously, your baby will not be able to say they’re experiencing a headache,” says Dr Harvey. “There are common signs to look out for, though.” Babies who are excessively grumbling, moaning or groaning could have a headache. Low energy, poor appetite and pulling on the ears are other signs.”
Indeed, earaches are another common reason why parents phone house call doctors. Earaches often result from an inner ear or ear canal infection.
“As with headaches, earaches should be treated with pain relief. Occasionally, antibiotics might be required if the ear infection becomes more complicated.”
5. Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
“UTIs are a common bacterial infection presenting in babies,” says Dr Harvey. “However, infection can spread to the kidney or bladder if not treated properly.”
According to Parents magazine, one in ten female babies will demonstrate signs of a UTI. One in thirty male babies will experience symptoms. A UTI is characterised by fever, painful urination and discomfort throughout the lower abdomen. In extreme cases, urine can appear cloudy or even contain blood.
“As your baby will be unable to communicate his or her symptoms, it’s important that a medical assessment is conducted if you notice these signs,” says Dr Harvey.
In most cases, urinary tract infections can be solved with just one dose of antibiotics. House call doctors can typically administer these medications in your home.