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Does your child have a serious illness?

Most illnesses in children are mild and will go away by themselves but sometimes it can be difficult to tell how ill your child really is. Do they have common sickness, or are you missing the signs of a serious underlying condition that needs urgent medical attention?

Serious illness can present itself in many different ways, so it's difficult to know what to look out for. There is no one specific sign or symptom that 100 per cent predicts serious illness. That's why it's important to look at the whole picture and seek help if you're worried.

The main thing is to trust your instincts. You know better than anyone else what your child is usually like, so you’ll know when something is seriously wrong.

Signs of serious illness in a child

Here’s a checklist of warning signs that might be serious:


  • A high temperature that doesn’t come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen

  • Your child is quiet and listless, even when their temperature is down

Read more about how to take your child’s temperature.

Find out how to treat a high temperature at home.

Alertness and irritability

  • Your child is unusually drowsy or floppy

  • Your child is unresponsive

  • Your child has a high-pitched, continuous cry


  • Your child is having difficulty breathing

  • Rapid breathing or panting

  • Shallow breaths
  • A throaty noise while breathing

Skin colour and appearance

  • Your child is pale or blue

  • Your child has a purple or red rash that doesn’t go away when you press it

Other signs

  • Your child is hard to wake up, or appears disorientated or confused

  • Green vomit

  • Your child has a fit (convulsion or seizure) for the first time
  • Your child won’t drink or is not passing urine

If your child has any of these signs, get medical help as soon as possible:

  • During the day from Monday to Friday – it’s best to call your GP practice
  • Evenings and weekends – call NHS 111

Find your nearest urgent care centre.

Find your nearest A&E.

When to call an ambulance

Call 999 for an ambulance if your child:

  • Stops breathing
  • Won’t wake up
  • Has a spotty, purple-red rash anywhere on the body that doesn’t fade when you press a glass against it – this could be a sign of blood poisoning (septicaemia)
  • Is under eight weeks old and you are very worried about them
  • Has a fit for the first time, even if they seem to recover
  • Has a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • If you think someone may have seriously injured your baby

Again, trust your instincts. You know what’s different or worrying behaviour in your child.

Spot the signs of childhood diseases

Learn the signs of serious diseases that can affect children: