You Should Call the Pediatrician If...

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male doctor as he examines a patient's throat
Kids get sick -- a lot. Sometimes you can address the illness with an over-the-counter remedy. Other times, a trip to the doctor may be in order. See more pictures of staying healthy.

We've all probably seen the old gag in sitcoms where an overly conscientious mom or dad takes a newborn or small child to the doctor over every perceived ill. The exasperated pediatrician eventually tells the parents they must find a new doctor ... and the scene ends with a laugh track. It might be a silly plotline, but in real life, many parents and pediatricians find themselves in similar circumstances.

As a parent, it's natural to be protective of your child. And if you're a new mom or dad, you may not be used to all of the little fevers, sniffles and rashes that young children collect from infancy throughout early childhood. So, you can be forgiven for rushing your little one to the clinic more often than you should. In fact, it is always best to err on the side of caution. If you're really worried or unsure about your child's health, you should feel comfortable in calling or visiting your pediatrician's office. But for many health woes, you can treat your child at home.

Sometimes home treatments are the better option. According to microbiology professor and germ expert Chuck Gerba, waiting rooms in pediatricians' offices are some of the more germ-laden places around -- they're only slightly more sanitary than a restroom. So cutting out unnecessary visits may actually protect your child from further illnesses.

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The key to knowing when to visit the doc and when to stay at home is being educated on what's normal -- and what's not -- for kids your child's age. Get acquainted with common symptoms and illnesses, and also familiarize yourself with the hallmarks of dangerous diseases like meningitis. If you're ever unsure about what warrants a visit to the doctor and what doesn't, call your pediatrician's office. A quick consultation with the doctor, a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner can ease your mind or let you know if you need take further steps. On the following pages, we'll help you get to know the basics of childhood illnesses and at-home treatments so that you'll know when you should -- or shouldn't -- make that call.