Sudbury

Sudbury doctor offers expertise on flu season, kids — and what to watch out for

It's flu season, and if your little one is sick, it can leave you feeling pretty helpless. Many parents find themselves Googling symptoms and guessing what the problem might be. Dr. Sam Oommen, an emergency room doctor at Health Sciences North, has some answers for parents.

Dr. Sam Oommen says he looks for three things to help assess how sick a child might be

Dr. Sam Oommen, an emergency room physician at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, says when a sick child comes through the doors, he worries much less if they've had a flu vaccine. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

It's flu season, and if your little one is sick, it can leave you feeling pretty helpless.

Many parents find themselves Googling symptoms and guessing what the problem might be.
    
Dr. Sam Oommen, an emergency room doctor at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, said there are three things he tells parents to look for when they're worried.

"What's their level of activity: are they lethargic? Are they working at breathing? How are they hydrating?"

If a fevered child is given Tylenol or Advil and they're "bouncing off the walls," Oommen said, that's a good sign. If the child is still lethargic and not drinking, that could point to something more serious," he said.

Oommen said although people commonly use 'flu' and 'cold' interchangeably, influenza can present with some very serious symptoms, including a high fever for many days, serious fatigue, and in children sometimes, abdominal pain.

But, he worries less about a sick child in the ER if he knows they've had the flu vaccine.

"You know, you're already ahead if you're vaccinated," he said. "When a child is unwell with a fever and comes to [the ER] one of the early questions I'll ask is 'Are you vaccinated?' Because that's such a protection against a bunch of things."

Oommen adds that ER doctors often see a lot of kids with rashes.

"Rashes with a fever always evoke some concerns," he said. "But the vast majority of rashes — and I don't want to dismiss a rash — but the vast majority of rashes are really viral. A viral skin response to an illness."

He continued, "The question again is not does the kid just have a rash, but what does the kid look like? Are they 'toxic' looking? And by that I mean they're not hydrating. They can't even get off the couch. They are working hard to breathe."

"That's when I say, 'bring that kid back in.'"

'What parents need'

Bottom line, said Oommen: people can read the symptoms, but that might not be enough to assuage worry when a clinic or family doctor isn't available. 

"I would never discourage somebody from coming to the emergency department," he said. 

"You know, it's 2 o'clock in the morning and you're concerned...[you just need to] be reassured, 'nothing bad is going on here', a lot of times, that's what parents need. "

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