Common childhood illnesses and complaints don’t always mean a trip to the GP

A pharmacist’s guide to when it’s safe to visit the pharmacy rather than a GP

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A recent GP patient survey by the Department of Health found that lack of available appointments mean millions of people find it difficult to get to see their GP.

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All children fall ill at some point, but rather than rush them to your GP, you might be able to save yourself time by going to your local pharmacist instead.

Pharmacy Superintendent and Treasurer of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Sid Dajan says,

“If your little one gets poorly, don’t automatically assume that you need to take them to the GP. In many cases, your local pharmacist will be able to diagnose, give advice and prescribe as well as hand out drugs for minor ailments.

Here is Sid’s advice on which illnesses and ailments can be treated by a pharmacist

Colic

Colic is a harmless but worrying experience for any parent, particularly first-time mums. It’s perfectly normal for babies to get it. It starts a few weeks after birth and can last up to three months. The causes are unknown and may be down to fast eating, gulping air, slow bowel/intestine movement.

Your pharmacist: Can confirm colic and provide reassurance that nothing is more serious. There are over-the-counter products available parents can try that breakdown lactose in feeds, which may be causing the symptoms.

Best to see your GP if: If a one week trial of the over the counter treatment offers no relief or if your child’s crying is accompanied by diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, a fever or any other symptom of illness.

Chickenpox

Chicken Pox is highly contagious. 90% of children will catch it at some point. A high fever is accompanied by a rash of itchy, fluid-filled blisters. Chickenpox runs its course over 7-14 days, but there are ways to minimise discomfort and complications.

Your pharmacist: Can recommend treatments to reduce itching and fever. Cool baths and infant paracetamol are good for reducing fever and modern treatments, such as Care ViraSoothe, a cooling gel that soothes the itch by drawing water to the surface of the skin, are better than traditional Calamine lotion.

Best to see your GP if: Your child is suffering from high fever, yellowish discharge from the blisters, vomiting, breathing difficulties or drowsiness. Also, if your child seems to be recovering but then suffers a relapse such as spots returning or a sudden increase in fever.

Cows milk allergy

Not to be confused with milk sensitivity or lactose intolerance.

Your pharmacist: Can help to tell the difference. It is perfectly normal for babies stool habits to change in frequency and consistency when their diet has changed or as they grow.

Best to see your GP if: Your baby is consistently experiencing diarrhoea, vomiting, passing blood on the stools. If your baby is not growing normally or begins to lose weight after changing to formula consisting of cows milk proteins.

Croup

Croup is a common virus in kids. It causes the voice box (larynx) and airway to the lungs (trachea) to swell, making it difficult to breathe. It results in a distinctive, bark-like cough. In adults it’s called laryngitis. Although it’s frightening to hear your baby cough like this, in most cases, it sounds worse than it is. Symptoms also include runny nose, sore throat, temperature and a loud, high-pitched rasping sound when breathing (this is called stridor).

Your pharmacist: Can tell you if it is just a harmless cough. The “barking” cough of croup is often described as resembling the call of a seal or a sea lion. The stridor is worsened by agitation or crying, and if it can be heard at rest, it may indicate critical narrowing of the airways.

Best to see your GP if: your child has difficulty breathing, if symptoms are severe and unrelieved by steam. If your child starts turning cyanotic (blue), go to A & E.

Constipation

Constipation is expected as diet changes and it is a fact that breast fed babies are less likely to get it. It is dependent on the type of milk and particular foods given after weaning and other factors include dehydration, especially in hot weather.

Your pharmacist… Can provide advice and medicines depending on the age of the child before it gets worse.

Best to see your GP if… Your baby isn’t gaining weight, there is no bowel movement after a few days, or if your baby shows any other unusual symptoms.

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea has many causes and is usually harmless. Your priority is to make sure your child does not become dehydrated. 

Your pharmacist: Can advise and hand out rehydration medicines such as Dioralyte Relief which helps solidify stools, return bowel movements to normal and reduce the duration of diarrhoea.

Best to see your GP if: Your baby is under 6 months-old and has had diarrhoea for more than 6 hours, or if your baby is over 6 months-old and has had diarrhoea for more than a day. You should also see your GP if your child is over the age of 3 and has had symptoms for more than two days. Or if symptoms are accompanied by vomiting, refusal to drink liquids, a temperature higher than 38, green or odorous or blood stained stools, very dry skin, or no passing of urine for several hours. Also if your child has an underlying medical condition (for example, heart or kidney problems, diabetes, history of premature birth), or if your child appears drowsy or confused, or if there is blood in their diarrhoea or vomit, or infections caught abroad.

Eczema

Atopic eczema is a dry skin condition that may be red, sore, dry and unbearably itchy, causing scratching and further damage to skin. It mainly affects children but can continue into adulthood. There’s no way we can predict the natural course of your child’s eczema – the important thing is to take control of it.

Your pharmacist: Can provide reassurance and recommend emollients, bath emollients, bath soap substitutes, such as Care Aqueous Emollient Cream, a 2-in-1 emollient and soap substitute that is 100% SLS free (the thickening agent SLS is used to make bubbles and lather, and can aggravate dry skin).

Best to see your GP if: Your child has very red and weepy eczema with small blisters as this could mean an infection. Also if your child has cracked skin, if the eczema is persistent or gets worse.

Teething

All children go through this, but it can last for months!

Your pharmacist: Can provide advice and recommend medicines and products to ease discomfort.

Best to see your GP if: Your child has a high fever, persistent diarrhoea or vomiting.

Urinary infections

It can be difficult to tell if your child has a urine infection. If they are very young, they may not be able to let you know where the problem is.

Your pharmacist: Can help diagnose and agree the symptoms in the first instance, e.g. pain and burning during urination, urine that is foul smelling or cloudy urine, more crying than usual, going off feeds, fever or drowsiness.

Best to see your GP if: Always see your GP if symptoms suggest a urinary infection.

Nappy rash

Nappy rash is usually caused by your baby’s skin coming into contact with urine and faeces in their nappy and usually develops between 9 and 12 months.

Your pharmacist: Can recommend a change in skin care routine, such as replacing their barrier cream with a nappy rash treatment cream to apply with every change. Most rashes are mild and your baby will usually feel no pain or discomfort.

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Best to see your GP if: The rash does not improve or disappear after several days of care, or if your child has severe inflammation, if it causes your baby’s skin to become sore and irritated in the area around the nappy, and covered in pink or red spots or blotches. 

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