How to Detect Diseases in Children


A mother must be able to detect disease early and get her child medical help. She’ll quickly learn this. She needs only to remember the signs of health to realize that any deviations indicate disorder, if not the disease. She must adapt to these changes.


Signs of health include a healthy performance of the body’s functions, regular demands for its supply, neither excess nor deficiency, and regular excretions in quantity and appearance.
Observing a healthy infant can teach something. There is no angle in the child’s body; whether the limbs are bent or straight, every line forms a portion of a circle. Unless limbs are bent, joints cannot be felt.

In health, the tongue is white and free of sores, the skin is fantastic, the eyes are bright, the complexion is clear, the head is incredible, the abdomen isn’t protruding, and breathing is regular and easy. The infant is cheerful and enthusiastic and loves to be played with; when asleep, it appears calm, every feature composed, its countenance displaying happiness and perhaps lit up with a smile.

In proportion to the above appearances, health exists; in proportion to their partial or total absence, the disease takes over.
For clarity, we’ll examine disease signs in the countenance, gestures, sleep, stools, breathing, and cough.


In health, a child’s countenance expresses serenity in mind and body; if the child is ill, this expression will change, indicating what part of the system is at fault.
Pain in the head causes contracted brows. This is often the first outward sign of anything wrong and will occur at the onset of disease; if remarked early and proper remedies are used, it may prevent one of the most fearful infantile complaints, “Water in the Head.”

If this sign is ignored and the above disease threatens, soon the eyes will become fixed and staring, the head hot, and moved uneasily from side to side upon the pillow, or lie heavily upon the nurse’s arm, the child will start in its sleep, grinding its teeth, and awake alarmed and screaming, its face will be flushed, particularly the cheeks (as if rouged), its hands hot, but feet cold, its bowels obstinately costive, or its motions scan.

The pain is in the belly if the lips are parted to show teeth or gums. This sign is only present during actual suffering; if in doubt, press on the stomach and observe the face’s expression.
If the pain is caused by indigestion-related bowel irritation, it will be temporary, and the sign will come and go as the spasm does.

If the disease is more severe and inflammation ensues, this sign will be more constant. Soon the countenance will become pale or sallow and sunken, and the child will dread motion and lie on its back with the knees bent up to the belly, the tongue will be loaded, and breathing. At the same time, the chest will heave with more than usual effort, and the belly muscles will remain perfectly quiescent.

Bringing the nostrils up quickly causes chest pain. This sign generally accompanies inflammation of the chest, in which the countenance will be discoloured, the eyes will be staring, and the breathing will be difficult and hurried. If the child’s mode of respiration is observed, the chest will be unmoved while the belly quickly heaves with every inspiration.
Face changes precede convulsions. Sometimes the upper lip is bluish or livid. Then there may be slight squinting or eye rotation on its axis, flushing or paling, and sudden animation followed by languor.

These signs may be premonitory and may prevent a seizure if noticed in time. Always check your eyesight. In health, they are clear and bright, but in disease, they become dull and give the face a heavy appearance. After prolonged irritation, they will assume a remarkable quickness and a pearly brightness that is better observed than described.

Eye direction can also be instructive. When a baby is first exposed to light, both eyes rarely focus on the same object. This is not a sign of disease and proves that focusing on one thing with both eyes is a learned behaviour. When a child’s eyes are habitually directed to the same object and then lose that power, it may signify a head disease.


Healthy children’s gestures are easy and natural, but in sickness, they deviate, often indicating the disease.
Suppose an infant has learned to support itself and hold its head erect. Sickness will cause its head to droop, and it will lose this ability until it is healthy again. During this time, its posture and movements will be passive.

The baby who just learned to run from chair to chair, with two or three teeth pressing on and irritating the gums, may lie languidly in its cot or on its nurse’s arm.
Drawn-up legs and crying indicate bowel disorder and pain. This part hurts when pressed. By their unhealthy nature, bowel secretions confirm your suspicions about the disorder’s source.
In health, a child’s hands are rarely above its mouth, but if it’s in pain, they’re constantly raised to the head and face.

Sudden waking and sleeping should never be ignored, even for trivial reasons. It’s linked to brain disorders. A convulsive fit may be imminent if the child’s thumb is drawn in and pressed against the palm, with the fingers so compressed on it. The toes may also be puffy, and foot and wrist may be bent downward.

Other milder signs of threatening convulsions are gestures such as a rigidly drawn back head, arm, or leg. These signs, as well as those listed above, are confirmed beyond all doubt if there are alterations in the child’s habits: if the sleep is disturbed, if there are frequent fits of crying, great peevishness of temper, the countenance alternately flushed and pale, sudden animation followed by a fit of languor, catching of the breath followed by a long and profound inspiration.



A healthy baby sleeps quietly, calmly, and restfully. In early infancy, when not at the breast, it sleeps in its cot; although it sleeps less as the months advance when the hour for rest arrives, the child falls into a quiet, peaceful slumber.
Unless sick. Often, it refuses to be put in its cot, so the nurse must hold it; it sleeps briefly and restlessly.
If it suffers pain, however slight, the countenance will indicate it. As when awake, if something is wrong with the head, the eye-brow will contract, and the teeth will grind; if something is wrong with the belly, the lips will be drawn apart, showing the teeth or gums, and there will be great restlessness and frequent starting.



Newborn motions are dark and look like pitch. First, milk from the mother’s breast acts as an aperient on the infant’s bowels and is eliminated in four-and-a-half hours.
From this time on, and throughout infancy, the stools will be light yellow, with the consistency of thin mustard, odourless, smooth, lump-free, and passed without pain or wind. The child will have two to four daily evacuations as long as it is healthy. They will become less frequent, darker, and more solid as it ages, but not like adults.

Any deviation from the above characters is a sign of something wrong. As a deranged bowel condition is often the first sign of disease, the nurse should daily watch the evacuations. Appearance, colour, and discharge method are essential. Unnatural stools are curdled, liquid, green, dark, or smelly. In a healthy child, the motion is passed with little wind, as if squeezed out, but in disease, it is thrown out with considerable force, indicating irritation.

It’s important to note the number of stools passed in four-and-a-half hours in case the child doesn’t get its usual relief (and it must not be forgotten that children, although in perfect health, differ as to the precise number)

Coughing and breathing

A healthy child breathes evenly, regularly, inaudibly, and without effort. If the airways or lungs become inflamed, the inspiration will become so quick, hurried, and perhaps audible that the situation is immediately apparent.

All changes in breathing from nutritional standards, however slight, should be noticed early. Many chest complaints, though formidable, can be arrested if caught early by a doctor; otherwise, they may be beyond art’s control. To spot any changes, a parent should become familiar with her child’s healthy breathing.When a child has a cold, hoarseness, and a cough, be suspicious and seek medical advice. Hoarseness does not usually accompany a common cold in children. These symptoms may be premonitory of “croup,” a disease that progresses too quickly and requires prompt and decisive treatment due to the importance of the affected parts.

Dr Cheyne’s comments are so illustrative and relevant to my purpose that I must include them: “In the approach of an attack of croup, which almost always occurs in the evening, probably after the child has been exposed to the weather, he may be excited, in variable spirits, more ready than usual to laugh than to cry, a little flushed, and coughing, with a sound similar to the catarrhal stage of measles. More generally, the patient has been in bed and asleep before the disease is apparent; then, perhaps without waking, he gives a very unusual cough, well known to anyone who has witnessed an attack of the croup; it rings as if the child had coughed through a brazen trumpet; it penetrates the walls and floor of the apartment, and startles the experienced mother, ‘Oh! I am afraid!’ She runs to the nursery and finds her child sleeping, hoping she’s wrong. The patient is roused, and a new symptom is noted; the sound of his voice is changed; puling and as if the throat were swollen, it corresponds with the cough “*

How important it is for a mother to be familiar with the above symptoms of one of childhood’s most dreadful diseases, for if she seeks medical help early, the treatment is almost always successful, whereas if this “golden opportunity” is lost, the disease will rarely yield to measures, however wisely chosen or persistently employed.

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