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Illness Progression 101


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Many parents find themselves at their local urgent care to combat their kids’ favorite things to share—germs. And some may be back just a few days later, frustrated by what they feel is a misdiagnosis. The real culprit, however, is often what doctors consider “illness progression.”

Picture this: Your child wakes up one morning, complaining of ear pain. You bring her in for treatment, only to be told her ear is clear with no signs of infection. Two days later the ears are suddenly red and full of fluid. The doctor made a mistake, right? Not necessarily. Illnesses don’t simply pop into existence in their full stage. Many develop and evolve over time. It actually makes sense that an exam during different parts of the illness’ timeline would result in different diagnoses. That’s why follow-up visits after the first diagnosis are essential, especially if symptoms advance.

Early Treatment Could Be Too Much, Too Soon

Why not begin treatment, just in case? Some people assume the biggest downside to illness progression is delayed treatment, when actually, a premature treatment plan can be just as dangerous. Imagine your child has a potential infection and your pediatrician immediately labels it “bacterial” and prescribes antibiotics. If that infection turned out to be a simple virus that your child’s body would fight on its own, the unnecessary medication could enable antibiotic-resistant superbugs, in addition to unpleasant side effects. Your rush to make your child better may, in turn, make them worse.


What Can You Do?

Christina Johns, MD, Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatrics and author of the Dear Dr. Christina blog, suggests every parent:

1. Ask Questions

When it comes to your child’s health, there is no limit to what information should be made available to you. Talk to your pediatrician about the potential cause of the illness and what you can expect in terms of its progression. While every case is unique, of course, this will help prepare you for what’s to come.