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Eight Lifesaving Signs Of Meningitis In Children

by Rebecca Endicott
Becca is a writer and aspirational dog owner living in NYC.

It’s never easy to see a little one in your life feeling sick.

Of course, it’s even more challenging when, as an adult, you can’t figure out what’s making them feel so lousy.

Most of us have no trouble diagnosing a common cold, or figuring out when our kiddos are suffering from allergies, but things get more complex when symptoms that don’t seem scary at first worsen or refuse to go away.

That’s why, if you take care of children as a parent, a babysitter, or a professional, it’s incredibly important to know the symptoms of meningitis, a childhood illness that can strike without warning and have potentially deadly consequences.

Meningitis is a disease caused by inflammation in the brain and spinal membranes, and can be bacterial, fungal, or viral.

The viral version is quite treatable and may clear up on its own, but bacterial meningitis in particular moves very swiftly, and all forms of the illness are easy to confuse with flu or other more mild illnesses.

Scroll down below to learn which symptoms children might exhibit early on, so that you can catch this scary condition early.

Thumbnail Photo Credit: Flickr

Meningitis Symptom #1: Trouble Turning Head

Meningitis Symptom #1: Trouble Turning Head
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

One of the classic symptoms of meningitis is a stiff neck.

Kids often won’t notice this symptom at all, thinking they just pulled a muscle or slept funny, but pay close attention if you think a child is holding his or her head strangely, or seems less flexible than normal.

When in doubt, administer the chin-to-chest test.

If your child is able to touch their chin to their chest with little problem, they’re probably fine; if the same action causes extreme discomfort or pain, call your doctor immediately.

Meningitis Symptom #2: Warm Forehead

Meningitis Symptom #2: Warm Forehead
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As adults, most of us are pretty clued into the feeling of a fever coming on.

Kids, however, might not be so good at communicating that they’re suddenly feeling icky or shivery or flushed.

Instead, keep an eye out for flushed skin, chattering teeth, and skin that’s warm to the touch — all indicators of fever.

WebMD also notes that, with meningitis, the hands and feet may be ice-cold, even while a fever is building.

Meningitis Symptom #3: Irritability

Meningitis Symptom #3: Irritability
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Kids get cranky for truly dumb reasons now and again, so don’t panic if your child is simply in a bad mood because you won’t serve ice cream for dinner.

According to the Meningitis Research Foundation, what you should watch out for is random, sourceless irritability, especially in babies and tots who may not have the words to communicate what they’re feeling.

With older kids, you might see a bad mood that comes out nowhere, combined with “loopy” behavior or confusion.

Meningitis Symptom #4: Covering Or Blocking Eyes

Meningitis Symptom #4: Covering Or Blocking Eyes
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

If an adult is feeling sensitive to bright light, there’s a good chance that alcohol was involved the night before.

In a child, this “hungover” behavior can be an early symptom of meningitis, according to KidsHealth.

Kids might fidget, block the eyes with their hands, or complain of the light and of a headache.

Meningitis Symptom #5: Nausea And Vomiting

Meningitis Symptom #5: Nausea And Vomiting
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

Look out for an unexplained nausea and vomiting.

Kids pick up stomach bugs pretty regularly, but it’s important to know the differences in symptoms; a stomach bug usually presents with both vomiting and diarrhea.

Nausea from meningitis is triggered by the pain, swelling, and fever, and diarrhea isn’t usually involved, unless it’s triggered by a diarrhea-causing virus.

 

Meningitis Symptom #6: Loss Of Appetite

Meningitis Symptom #6: Loss Of Appetite
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

Again, this is another case where kids don’t necessarily have the words to explain what they’re feeling, especially young babies.

Instead, us grown-ups have to put on our psychic hats and watch for warning signs that all isn’t well, as noted by the Meningitis Research Foundation.

If your kid normally cleans the plate, but is just picking at dinner, that could be a sign of an upset stomach that he hasn’t figured out how to describe.

If you’re worried about a picky eater, try tempting them with a favorite food before jumping to any conclusions.

Meningitis Symptom #7: Tough To Wake

Meningitis Symptom #7: Tough To Wake
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

Kids have a lot of growing to do, so they naturally need more sleep than adults, and plenty of nap time.

You don’t need to worry about your child being sleepy, but, according to KidsHealth, it’s very important to make sure your little one isn’t refusing to wake up.

Demanding “five more minutes” is one thing, but if your child doesn’t respond normally when spoken to, lifted, or gently shaken awake, they may be falling into a state of lethargy, or decreased consciousness.

Meningitis Symptom #8: Pinprick Rash

Meningitis Symptom #8: Pinprick Rash
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

A rash is never a good sign, is it?

Moms and dads know their way around all sorts of common childhood rashes, but the meningitis rash is fairly distinctive: red, purple, or brown pinpricks, according to HealthLine.

At first, these spots may look like bruising or blotchy skin, and can appear anywhere on the body.

Have you ever spotted meningitis in a child? Let us know in the comments, and please don’t forget to SHARE this important guide with anyone you know who cares for children!