Illness Progression 101

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Come the start of a new school year, 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

Dr. Christina Johns, Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatrics and author of the Dear Dr. Christina blog

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.

2. Create a Strategy
This is your opportunity to get ahead of the illness and plan, not just react. During the examination, discuss any potential warning signs that may indicate the situation is worsening, and what your course of action should be if it does.

3. Look to the Future
Don’t limit your information to one possible outcome if there are other potential diagnoses. Find out what else it could be and how the doctor will determine that. Most importantly, find out if the current treatment course will have any effect on other potential diagnoses.

4. Speak Up
You should never be afraid to reach out to your pediatrician with additional concerns and questions. They may ask you to come back in with your child for another evaluation to ensure you’re getting the most up-to-date, relevant feedback, or they may be able to answer your questions over the phone. Either way, they’re there to care for your child.

When in doubt, set up follow-up appointments.

Christina Johns, MD, is the Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatrics and author of the blog, Dear Dr. Christina. As a parent, pediatrician and pediatric emergency physician with a master’s in education, she shares her own expertise, plus the wealth of knowledge from PM Pediatrics highly skilled staff, with patients and families everywhere.

Follow Dr. Christina online for everyday health tips, insightful articles and more.
Blog: https://www.pmpediatrics.com/dear-dr-christina/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DrChristinaJohns/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/deardrchristina/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrCJohns
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Now open in Pompton Plains at 562 Route 23, PM Pediatrics is the specialized urgent care just for kids from cradle through college. Open every day until midnight, the practice’s kid-friendly themed offices are staffed by Pediatric Emergency Specialists and feature on-site digital X-ray and lab. PM Pediatrics treats a broad array of illnesses and injuries—from earaches, fevers, infections and abdominal pain to dehydration, asthma, fractures and wounds requiring stitches. The result is the highest quality specialized pediatric care, delivered with comfort and convenience to patients and their parents. To learn more about PM Pediatrics’ services and locations, visit pmpediatrics.com.

This post is sponsored by PM Pediatrics – where taking care of your kids comes first, while keeping moms happy, too, of course. 😊


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Erika is a yogi, writer, and world traveler. If she's not at the beach or chasing the sunset, she's looking for the best iced coffee she can find. Her favorite NJ spots include The Saint, Island Heights, and Lava Java House.

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