Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Fussy or irritable child

Young children who cannot talk yet will let you know when something is wrong by acting fussy or irritable. If your child is fussier than usual, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

Alternative Names

Inconsolability; irritability

Causes

It is normal for children to get fussy or whiny sometimes. There are lots of reasons why children get fussy:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Hunger
  • Frustration
  • Fight with a sibling
  • Being too hot or too cold

Your child also may be worried about something. Ask yourself if there has been stress, sadness, or anger in your home. Young children are sensitive to stress at home, and to the mood of their parents or caregivers.

A baby who cries for longer than 3 hours a day might have colic. Learn ways that you can help your baby with colic .

Many common childhood illnesses can cause a child to be fussy. Most illnesses are easily treated. They include:

Although less common, your child's fussiness may be an early sign of a more serious problem, such as:

  • Diabetes, asthma, anemia (low blood count), or other health problem
  • Serious infections, such as an infection in the lungs , kidneys , or around the brain
  • Head injury that you did not see happen
  • Hearing or speech problems
  • Autism or abnormal brain development (if fussiness does not go away and becomes more severe)
  • Depression or other mental health problems
  • Pain, such as headache or stomach ache

Home Care

Soothe your child as you would normally. Try rocking, cuddling, talking, or doing things your child finds calming.

Address other factors that may be causing fussiness:

  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Noise or stimulation around your child (too much or too little can be a problem)
  • Stress around the home
  • Irregular day-to-day schedule

Using your parenting skills, you should be able to calm your child and make things better. Getting your child on a regular eating, sleeping, and daily schedule can also help.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

As a parent, you know your child's usual behavior. If your child is more irritable than usual and cannot be comforted, contact your child's health care provider.

Watch for and report other symptoms, such as:

  • Belly pain
  • Crying that persists
  • Fast breathing
  • Fever
  • Poor appetite
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Rash
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Sweating

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your child's health care provider will work with you to learn why your child is irritable. During the office visit, the provider will:

  • Ask questions and take a history
  • Examine your child
  • Order lab tests, if needed

References

Saunders M, Gorelick MH. The acutely ill child. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme III JW, et al., eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap. 60.

Updated: 9/1/2014

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com