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Chronic and Acute Illness: What’s the Difference?

little boy inhaling with nebuliser; blog: Chronic and Acute Illness: What’s the Difference?

It can be scary and difficult to see your child sick. Having a good relationship with your child’s pediatrician and staying educated on current health information may help soothe any fears. Whether you already have children or are planning on having children, knowing about conditions that can affect children can help catch illnesses early so they are easier to treat effectively. One thing to be aware of is the difference between a chronic and acute illness. This information can help you know what to expect if your child gets sick.

Chronic Illness

A chronic illness is a condition that develops over time and is present for a long period of time. Some people have chronic conditions for many years. Technically, a chronic disease is defined as a health condition that lasts anywhere from three months to a lifetime. Chronic conditions may get worse over time. 

In adults, chronic conditions are often linked to longterm lifestyle habits like excessive drinking, smoking, poor nutrition, or lack of physical activity. In children, chronic illnesses are more often linked to genetic, social, and environmental factors.

Chronic conditions are more common among older adults because the body goes through changes as people age and they may become more likely to develop an illness. However, there are some chronic conditions that are fairly common in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, anywhere from ten to twenty million children and adolescents in the US have some form of chronic illness or disability. Chronic illnesses that affect children include:

Children with chronic illnesses or disabilities may also experience emotional and social struggles linked to their condition. It is not uncommon for parents, siblings, and other family members to experience these feelings as well. Your pediatrician can be a resource to help you deal with these issues. They may have referrals to mental health professionals or other specialists that can join your child’s healthcare team.

Acute Illness

Acute illnesses are different than chronic illnesses in that they usually develop quickly and they only last a short time – usually a few days or weeks. Acute illnesses are often caused by viral or bacterial infections. Common acute illnesses children may get include:

  • Strep throat
  • Ear infections
  • Flu
  • Colds
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Skin infections
    • MRSA, staph, other bacteria
  • Sinus infections
  • Chickenpox
  • Hand, foot and mouth disease
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach bugs)

You might need to schedule a sick visit if your child has symptoms of one of the acute illnesses mentioned above. Symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Earache
  • Unusual rashes
  • Severe cuts and scrapes
  • Animal or insect bites

Differences in Treatment

Your child’s pediatrician can treat both chronic and acute illnesses. If your child has a chronic condition, your pediatrician may refer them to a specialist. The pediatrician will still be an integral part of your child’s care team and work with specialists if needed. Chronic conditions are not usually cured, they are only managed or controlled. Treatment plans for chronic conditions may include lifestyle changes, medication, surgery, or physical and occupational therapies.

Acute illnesses require different levels of care based on severity. For common childhood illnesses, your child will probably only need to visit the pediatrician for treatment. If your child’s illness becomes more serious, you may need to seek emergency care or the pediatrician will admit them to the hospital. Unlike chronic conditions, acute illnesses can be resolved or cured.

At Kernodle Pediatrics, we provide comprehensive healthcare to children from birth to eighteen years of age. This includes the treatment of acute illness and can help manage chronic illnesses. We recommend parents call early in the day to schedule a same-day appointment. To talk to our team about a plan of care for your child, call our office in Elon at (336) 538-2416 or our office in Mebane at (919) 563-250.

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