Childhood Illnesses

Spotting Serious Illness in Children

It can be tricky to know when your child needs medical care, including who to contact and when. It is important you trust your instincts and get the help your child needs. Not getting the advice and treatment at the right time could put your child at risk of serious illness.

If your child already has a health condition (like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy) look out for warning signs that their condition is less well controlled. Follow the advice given to you by the medical team that look after your child.

Below is some information on different conditions. One symptom on its own may not always be serious. Use this information as an idea on what symptoms to look out for and who to contact.

Some symptoms might be a sign that your child could be seriously ill and your child needs to go to the hospital’s emergency department (A&E).

One symptom within a group below: talk to a health professional for advice today.

More than one symptom within a group below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

Warning Signs

Headache and/or Stiff Neck

One symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today. 

More than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

  • The headache and/or stiff neck seems worse WHEN WAKING UP or LYING DOWN.  
  • The headache or stiff neck may come and go and be worse with bending over or coughing.  
  • May be feeling sick and being sick.
  • Change in behaviour: unsettled and clingy / sleepy / difficult to wake up.
  • Eye changes: crossed / downward gaze – or anything that is different to usual.
  • If younger than 18 months the soft spot (on the top of the head) feels full or tight.
  • Child or young person may have had an injury e.g. falling off of bed.

Tummy Pain

One symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today. 

More than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • Tummy pain coming and going but becoming more constant.  
    • May start round the belly button and move down or it may feel like the pain is everywhere.
    • No poos or wind.
    • Any blood or mucus in their poo.
    • Tummy looks bigger or swollen.
    • Hot or shivery or sweaty.
    • Not eating much or at all or drinking much.
    • Feeling sick and being sick.

In boys if they have lower tummy pain, are feeling sick or being sick and maybe a fever (high temperature and feel hot) check if the pain is coming from the scrotum (balls). 

This is not common but it can happen after exercise or an injury to the groin. The symptoms often start in the night or first thing in the morning.

Sickness and Runny Poos

One symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today. 

More than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • Vomiting - being sick   
    • Diarrhoea - runny poo
    • Headache
    • Looking pale and tired
    • Feeling faint

If you also notice swelling - including on the legs, feet and ankles or any unexplained bruises please contact your GP or 111 straight away. 


If your baby has a fever and is less than three months old, even if they have no other symptoms, contact your GP or 111 straight away.

A fever and one symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today.

A fever and more than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • Temperature of 40 or getting worse accompanied by shivering.
    • Your child’s temperature drops below 35 (Normal is 37).
    • Your child develops a rash that looks like small purple dots that do not go away when you apply pressure with your fingers (blanching). 
    • Your child is not able to keep down drinks, is not weeing or nappies seem drier.
    • Your child's skin looks pale or grey, or is cool or mottled or sweaty.
    • Your child is in constant pain. 
    • Your child has a fit and a high temperature / feels hot for the first time or a long fit with a temperature/ feeling hot.   
    • Your child seems confused or delirious or just very sleepy
    • Your child does not use their arm or leg normally or refuses to stand up. 
    • Your child cries constantly and cannot be settled.
    • Your child has problems breathing or fast breathing. Average breathing: Under 1 year old - 50 breaths in a minute. Over 1 year old - 30 breaths in a minute

Always let the Doctor know if your child has not had any vaccinations / is not immunised and they have any of these symptoms.

Wheeze or Persistent Cough

One symptom below: talk to a health professional for advice today. 

More than one symptom below: contact your GP or 111 straight away.

    • Constant wheezing or cough.   
    • Changes in your child's colour, like bluish or grey lips and fingernails.
    • Trouble talking and can't speak in full sentences.
    • The areas below the ribs, between the ribs, and in the neck visibly pull in during breaths in (called retractions).

Very Thirsty & Tired

Contact you GP straight away or 111 out of hours if your child becomes;

    • More thirsty than usual.
    • Is weeing a lot more and is going to the toilet more.
    • Getting thinner.
    • Is very tired.

Call 999/ go to hospital emergency department (A&E) straight away if as well as the above;

    • Your child's breath smells like pear drops.
    • Your child becomes confused.
    • Breathes more deeply and quickly.
    • May have stomach pains and is sick.


Visiting Health Services

NHS services are available to take care of you and make sure you get the advice and care you need. 

Who can Help?

If you are not sure whether your child is seriously unwell, call 111 or your GP for advice. Remember that you know your child best. If you think your child is seriously unwell call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E department.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

The Lullaby Trust - Baby Check App- This app has simple checks that you can do if your baby is ill and helps you think about whether they need to see a doctor or health professional.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below. 

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