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Symptoms of pain in children

It can be hard to assess symptoms of pain in children. Before they can talk, babies may cry when they have pain and discomfort, but how do you know what's wrong?

Once they can talk, children will say something hurts, but may not be good at describing their symptoms to help pin down the problem.

A parent also has to decide whether a child is really in pain or is overreacting?

Pain is a highly individual and complex experience. Here are some tips on reading symptoms of pain in your child.

Symptoms of pain in babies

Unlike with older children in pain, crying isn't always a reliable pain indicator in babies. That's because crying is a baby's way of expressing a whole host of needs. Here are signs that a baby may be in pain:

  • Changes in crying patterns. A baby's distressed cry sometimes, but not always, sounds different from ordinary crying. Changes in your baby's behaviour can also be a tip-off. For example, crying that can't be soothed with a bottle, nappy change, or cuddling, could indicate pain. Also, a calm baby who becomes unusually tetchy could be in pain.
  • Crying while nursing. Sucking can create pressure in the ears. The baby who cries while nursing could very well have a painful ear infection.
  • Prolonged, intense crying, often at the same time each day. This behaviour is common with colic, which occurs in infants due to abdominal pain. This often starts at the age of 2 - 3 weeks old, peaks at 6 weeks, and then gradually declines.
  • Crying and drawing the legs up to the abdomen. Your baby could have colic. However, there are other more serious conditions to consider, such as intussusception (a condition where the bowel slides in on itself causing a blockage), constipation, reflux disease, urinary tract infection, and appendicitis to name a few.
  • Withdrawing. Long-term (chronic pain) can sap a baby's energy, causing the baby to become still, quiet, and to avoid eye contact.

If your baby has any of these symptoms, and you’re unsure of the cause, it’s best to seek medical advice to make sure it’s nothing more serious.

Symptoms of pain in toddlers

Fortunately, at this age, children in pain learn to talk, if only to say, "Ow, ow, ow!" They will usually clutch the part that hurts although they are not always that good at localising pain. Some toddlers will have a headache and point to their tummy. Pulling or rubbing the ear is common in toddlers when their ear hurts. This is often due to an ear irritation, wax, an object in the ear, or an infection.

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