Continuing our “Health as We Age” series, we’re moving onto the next stage of life: toddlerhood. Toddlers are classified as children 12 months to 4 years of age—an exciting phase in which your child will begin to develop their own personality and gain necessary skills they’ll use for the rest of their life. However, as your child continues to grow and develop, their health care needs evolve as well.
As a parent of a toddler, you already have some experience under your belt, but that doesn’t mean raising your little one doesn’t come without illness or other health issues. To help ease your worries and prepare you for what may come, we’re taking a look at health concerns and medications common for toddlers.
Early Childhood Immunizations
Early childhood vaccinates are one of the best ways to protect your child from illnesses and serious diseases. Your child’s pediatrician will recommend certain vaccinations that should be administered on a schedule based on your child’s age. By the time they are two years old, your child should be protected and vaccinated against 14 preventable diseases, including whooping cough, chickenpox, and the measles. Your child should also receive the flu vaccine on a yearly basis.
It’s a common misunderstanding that children do not need certain vaccinations until they begin school. However, your child can easily come into contact with vaccine-preventable diseases in public places, day care, or even friends or family members prior to starting school. For this reason, your child should receive vaccinations according to the schedule recommended by their pediatrician.
Toddler Health Concerns
As your child grows, they’re most likely more mobile and will be exposed to new environments and people. With these things, come germs. Toddlers don’t yet have fully developed immune systems and can easily be exposed to different illnesses and diseases. Below are some health concerns to keep an eye out for during this stage of life so that you can be prepared should a problem arise.
Young children can easily develop pink eye, or conjunctivitis, by coming into contact with bacteria and then touching or rubbing their eyes. Pink eye can be treated with antibiotic drops but is highly contagious. For this reason, if your little one develops pink eye it’s important that they don’t come into close contact with others or touch shared objects or surfaces. Pink eye can also be caused by a virus or allergies. Your child’s pediatrician should be able to determine the cause of the conjunctivitis and recommend or prescribe appropriate treatment.
Allergies occur when your child comes into contact with something they’re allergic to. Allergens can be foods, insect stings, dust mites, animals, pollen—the list goes on and on. When your child is exposed to these allergens, their immune system reacts to it and releases histamines, the chemicals that cause allergic reactions such as sneezing, rashes, itchy eyes, and swelling.
Food allergies are rarer in young children, but food intolerances are common. Both conditions produce similar symptoms, but food intolerances do not trigger a response from your child’s immune system. If you believe your child is having an allergic reaction, seek medical assistance as soon as possible as severe reactions can be life-threatening.
Ear infections are common in children, especially before the age of two. If your child has an ear infection, common symptoms include fever, earache, crying, trouble sleeping, fluid draining from the ear, or pulling or rubbing on the ear. Your child’s pediatrician will most likely recommend pain relievers and fever reducers. If the infection is more severe, antibiotics may be necessary.
Toddlers are especially susceptible to colds—with some children catching one once a month. Common cold symptoms include runny nose, cough, sneezing, and a mild fever. The best treatment for a cold is to keep your toddler comfortable, make sure they drink lots of fluids, let them get plenty of rest, and place a humidifier in their room to help them breathe. The best way to reduce the risk of spreading or catching a cold is helping your toddler wash their hands often. If you’re concerned that it might be more than a cold, contact your child’s pediatrician.
RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)
Toddlers under the age of two are also highly susceptible to RSV, a virus that affects the lungs and mirrors the symptoms of the common cold. However, for preemies and children who have a compromised immune system, congenital heart condition, or chronic lung disease, RSV can be dangerous. For these children, the virus can quickly cause bronchiolitis, an infection of the small airways in the lungs, or pneumonia. If you notice your toddler wheezing, breathing rapidly, struggling to breathe, refusing to drink fluids, being lethargic, or developing a bluish tinge to their lips or mouth, contact their pediatrician immediately as it may be a sign of RSV.
Bowel Movement Issues
Bowel issues don’t leave your child behind after they leave infancy. Toddlers also commonly experience several bowel issues during this stage.
Constipation may be caused by inadequate fiber, toilet training anxiety, anal fissures, medication, not drinking enough fluids, and even genetics. If your child is constipated, they may pass stools less often than usual, or they may have difficulty passing stools altogether. Constipation may occur over a matter of days, weeks, or months.
If you notice your child is constipated, make sure they drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Make sure they eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fiber, as these can help the digestive system do its job properly. If a change in diet does not help your toddler’s constipation, consult their doctor.
Soiling occurs when your toddler has trouble controlling their bowel movements or is experiencing leaking fecal matter. This condition is usually caused by constipation, but illness, stress, and toilet training can also cause soiling.
All children that have been toilet trained, especially between ages two and four, have accidents or soil themselves every once in a while. However, soiling becomes cause for concern when it occurs on a regular basis after your child has been potty trained. Talk to your pediatrician if your child is struggling with soiling themselves often, especially after the age of three or four.
With diarrhea, your child may experience frequent, watery stools lasting from one to seven days. Diarrhea can be caused by numerous factors including viruses, bacterial infections, medications, or food poisoning. Severe diarrhea can cause your toddler to lose too much fluid and lead to dehydration. If you notice watery stools, give your child plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration and make sure they continue to eat, even if they don’t feel hungry. Limit their intake of juice, ginger ale, and soft drinks as sugary beverages can actually make the diarrhea worse. If your toddler shows signs of dehydration, try giving them an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte. Do NOT give your child medication for diarrhea without consulting their pediatrician first.
Young children have sensitive skin. They are also exposed to viruses and bacteria as they’re playing with friends or experiencing new environments.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is easily transferred from child to child through touch, coughing, sneezing, and fecal matter and is highly contagious during the summer and fall. The virus causes sores and blisters on the hands, soles of the feet, and on the tongue or gums that may last several days to a week. Other symptoms may include fever, sore throat, irritability, and loss of appetite.
You should contact your pediatrician if the sores are making it difficult for your child to drink fluids or their symptoms worsen after a few days. There is not a definitive treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease but your pediatrician may recommend pain relievers or cold foods to soothe a sore throat or mouth.
Chickenpox is a viral infection that causes red, itchy spots to appear all over your toddler’s body along with flu-like symptoms. Thanks to the varicella vaccine, chickenpox is much rarer in young children than it used to be. Unfortunately, some children are exposed to chickenpox prior to getting the vaccination or in between the first vaccination and the booster shot. The chickenpox virus is extremely contagious and easily spread through the air and by direct contact with mucus, saliva, or fluid from the blisters. If you believe your child has chickenpox, call their pediatrician as soon as possible. They can guide you in watching for complications and recommend remedies to help with the itching. It’s better to leave your child at home rather than taking them to the doctor’s office, if you don’t have to, in order to avoid exposing other children.
Eczema is a term used to describe a range of skin conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed. It most commonly appears in your child’s first five years of life. In toddlers, eczema is typically found in the creases of the elbows or knees, as well as on the wrists, ankles, or hands. It may also appear around your child’s mouth and eyelids. Your toddler may develop eczema due to genetics or exposure to certain factors such as dry skin, irritants, heat and sweating, infection, or allergens. There is not a specific treatment for eczema, but your child’s pediatrician can recommend over-the-counter ointment remedies or prescription topical medications depending on the severity of the eczema.
Common Medications for Toddlers
Like newborns and infants, toddlers are still not quite old enough to take a wide range of medications. Toddlers are able to take certain medications to relieve pain, fever, allergies and rashes, colds and coughs, congestion, infections, and constipation. In this stage of life, medication dosages and how much of a certain medication your child can safely ingest is based on their weight, not age. Before giving your child any medication, be sure to consult their pediatrician or a dosage chart to confirm the proper dosage for your child.
Pain Relief and Fever
Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen – Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are both safe to give your toddler when they’re in pain or have a fever. Acetaminophen, in both its generic and brand-name forms, comes in liquid, chewable, and rectal suppository versions, while ibuprofen is available as a liquid syrup for toddlers. All of these can be used to relieve minor aches and pain as well as help reduce fevers. Consult your child’s pediatrician on the appropriate dosage for your child’s weight.
Rashes, Itching, and Allergies
Antihistamines – If your child is suffering from allergy symptoms or has a rash, their doctor will most likely recommend an antihistamine. Antihistamine’s block the production of allergy symptom-producing histamines and help alleviate sneezing, itching, and swelling. Children’s versions of common over-the-counter antihistamines include Benadryl (Diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine), Allegra (Fexofenadine), and Claritin (Loratadine). Consult your child’s pediatrician prior to giving your child allergy medication as they can recommend the proper antihistamine and dosage.
Hydrocortisone cream – For rashes and eczema, your child’s pediatrician may also recommend a corticosteroid like hydrocortisone. Hydrocortisone creams or ointments can help reduce inflammation, redness, and itchiness and are safe for children in half or one percent strengths. Cortizone 10 is a popular name-brand hydrocortisone cream.
Antibiotics - To treat ear infections, pneumonia, high fevers, urinary tract infections, and other types of infections, your pediatrician may recommend an antibiotic. Amoxicillin, Zithromax, penicillin, clarithromycin, and Bactrim are antibiotics that may be prescribed based on your toddler’s condition. The decision to use antibiotics depends on your child’s symptoms, medical history, and their doctor. If your child needs to take antibiotics, it’s very important that they take the entire course of antibiotics, even if they seem better after a few days.
Cough & Congestion
Saline nasal drops – Over-the-counter decongestants are not recommended for young children. However, if your child is congested, saline nasal drops can be used to help break up mucus and clear their nose. Rubber bulb syringes are a great option for administering saline drops to toddlers if you’re not able to easily administer the drops normally. If your toddler is able to, have them blow their nose regularly to break up congestion further.
Stool softeners or suppositories – If at-home constipation remedies are not working, your child’s pediatrician may recommend an over-the-counter stool softener or rectal suppository. Glycerin suppositories can help stimulate your toddler’s rectum to help them pass stools. Stool softeners, such as Pedia-Lax, can also be used to help relieve your child’s constipation. Both stool softeners and suppositories should be used under the supervision of a pediatrician, as using them too often or not long enough can prevent them from doing their job.
Saving Money for Parents
Raising a child is expensive. But, the Community Cares Rx Prescription Discount Card can save you up to 20 percent on brand-name medications and up to 70 percent on generics for prescription medications your toddler requires. All you have to do is download your free card, print it out, and present it to your pharmacist to start saving. Did we mention one card can be used for your entire family?