Newshub headline with Children's Wisconsin logo
When does your child need to see a doctor, and when can they stay home

Fever? Cough? Runny nose? When to take your child to the doctor

You’ve probably heard by now, the end of 2022 is one of the busiest starts to a viral season we have ever seen. Pediatric health systems all over the country are dealing with this, it’s not just in Wisconsin. It’s a triple whammy of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19 and now influenza (flu).

We want to help families understand these viruses and their symptoms a little better. First, we recommend you download the Children’s Wisconsin app and use our symptom checker to understand if your child needs to be seen by a doctor. We don't want families waiting to see a doctor if it isn't needed. The symptom checker can help determine if your child is better off at home resting under the covers, rather than sitting in a waiting room. 

Under 8 weeks old: If your child is under 8 weeks old and has a fever, they should be taken to the Emergency Department. Babies that young don’t have a fully developed immune system, so any fever should be taken very seriously.

Underlying health conditions: It’s also important to note if your child has risk factors like asthma, a chronic heart condition, cancer, or other underlying health conditions that impact their breathing. Those children are more vulnerable to illness and parents should take these symptoms more seriously. 

I certainly want to see any child who needs my care, but there are some typical cold symptoms that we see this time of year that don’t necessarily require a visit to your pediatrician. 


  • Although it is a sign of illness, fever in itself is NOT dangerous (in kids over 8 weeks old, as I explain above).
  • It is less about the number on the thermometer and more about your child’s age.

  • If your child can take a fever medication, then becomes more comfortable and is feeling better, that’s a great sign.

  • Check out Fever: Home care and facts


  • If the cough is intermittent and your child is coughing up some fluid, that is typical and you don’t need to bring your child in.

  • If a cough lingers a few weeks and the child starts wheezing, or your child is regularly coughing and they are unable to catch their breath, then you should call your doctor.

  • If the cough comes with rapid breathing and you notice your child’s lips changing color, that could be serious and I’d recommend taking your child to the Emergency Department.

Should my child be tested for RSV or the flu?

  • A test for RSV doesn’t really serve a purpose as there is no medication for it.

  • The treatment for RSV is the same as many other common respiratory viruses and therefore a test isn’t always necessary to dictate treatment.

  • It’s not worth bringing the average child in during long wait lines to have them sitting uncomfortably in a waiting room, just to get tested for RSV or the flu.

  • The best treatment will be staying at home, comfortably on the couch or in bed, getting rest.

  • Tamiflu is only helpful if it’s prescribed very early on when flu symptoms develop. If it’s been more than two days since your child got sick, it is much less effective.

How to best care for your child at home

  • If your child has a fever or feels chilled, cover them with light clothes and light covers.

  • Let them get lots of rest.

  • Give your child plenty of liquids.

  • If your child can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen (over 6 months old), these can be used to treat the discomfort that can be caused by fever.

  • A humidifier? Popsicles? Warm baths? These things don’t treat the virus, but help the child be more comfortable and encourages rest.

We expect wait times to be longer than normal through the winter and especially during the holidays. We don’t want children waiting to see a doctor if it isn’t needed, but we certainly don’t want parents to hesitate to call if they have a concern. Children’s Wisconsin is here for you. Stay well.