Why Do Kids Need to See a Doctor?

"You're going to the doctor," your mom tells you. But why go to the doctor when you're not sick? Regular checkups are a smart idea for kids. These visits happen when you're feeling fine and are sometimes called "well-child" visits because you're well. Get it?

It's a chance for the doctor to see that you're growing and developing normally. It's also a chance for your parents to talk with the doctor about any issues, such as safety or nutrition, so they can help you stay healthy.

And it gives you a chance to ask any questions you might have about your health. You might wonder when you will grow taller, for instance, or if you weigh the right amount.

What Does the Nurse Check?

A checkup may start when a nurse calls you and your parent from the waiting room. He or she might start by checking your weight and height, as well as your blood pressure and maybe your temperature.

  • Blood pressure: This shows how hard your heart is pumping blood throughout your body. A cuff that gets tighter and tighter on your arm is used to measure this. As the air drains out of the cuff, the nurse will watch the numbers to get your reading. Blood pressure can be too high or too low, but yours is probably just right!
  • Body temperature: Using a thermometer, the nurse can find out if your temperature is in the normal range (97°–99.5°F/36.1°–37.5°C). If it is higher, it means that you have a fever and your body is working to fight off an infection.

The nurse may check your hearing and vision (eyesight). If you have trouble with either one of these, you might need to see a hearing specialist or an eye doctor. The nurse then might ask you to go to the bathroom and give some urine (pee) in a cup. Urine can give clues about whether something is wrong with the way a person's body is working. But usually, the nurse tests your pee and says everything is fine.

All of these numbers, measurements, and test results will go into your medical chart, so the doctor can look them over. Then it's time to meet the doctor.

What Does the Doctor Check?

The doctor will come in and say hello, then ask you some questions, like how you're doing and if you have any problems or concerns. The doctor wants to make sure your body is working just like it should.

To do this, your doctor will:

Listen with a stethoscope: The stethoscope lets the doctor hear your heartbeat and the way your lungs sound. Doctors know just how healthy hearts and lungs should sound. If yours doesn't sound quite right, the doctor will want to investigate further.

Look in your ears, nose, and throat: Doctors know what healthy ears, noses, and throats should look like. The otoscope lets the doctor get a good look at yours and the light helps spot any problems, like fluid in your ear that could be an infection.

Look in your eyes: Doctors know what healthy eyes should look like. The ophthalmoscope lets the doctor see the retina, the light-sensitive part of your eye that sends messages to the brain. Though the doctor is shining a light in your eye, try to keep your eye still so the doctor can get a good look.

Bop you with a rubber hammer: This is when the doctor taps your knee and your leg swings up without you doing anything. It's a funny part of the exam, but there's a good reason for it. This tests how well your nerves are carrying messages in your body. When your reflexes respond to the hammer, the doctor knows your nerves can do the important job they have — carrying messages from the brain and spinal cord that tell your body what to do.

Feel around your belly: There's a lot of important stuff in your belly — from your stomach to your intestines and liver. Doctors know how healthy bellies should feel and they want to make sure yours feels just right.

Do a genital exam: This one might make you feel a little uncomfortable, so it can help if your mom or dad is with you during the exam. Your private parts — the vagina if you're a girl and the penis and testicles if you are a boy — are important body parts. Just like other parts of your body, your doctor will want to make sure there aren't any problems. Changes in these areas, such as growing hair, are signs that show you're moving toward puberty.

Do a spine check: Your spinal column is a series of bones along the middle of your back. The spine should be straight. But sometimes, a kid's spine has a curve and some curves are called scoliosis. Small curves usually cause no problems, but for larger curves you may need to get an X-ray or see an orthopedic doctor who specializes in the treatment of scoliosis.

Do I Need a Shot?

Remember all those shots you got before kindergarten? Shots (or immunizations) protect against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, polio, hepatitis, and measles — just to name a few.

Kids might worry about needing a shot every time they go to the doctor, but the truth is that kids don't need many shots after they're old enough to go to school. You will need a tetanus booster, usually when you are about 12 years old, or sometimes sooner if you get a deep or dirty wound.

An annual flu shot is also recommended, especially for kids who have medical conditions (like asthma) that make them more likely to have health problems if they get the flu.

Question and Answer Time

A lot of doctors leave time at the end of a checkup for questions. Your mom or dad may want to know how much milk you should be drinking, if it's safe for you to try a certain sport, or when you'll be old enough to stay home alone. These are all important questions and doctors can give parents good advice.

The doctor might have some information to share with you too. For instance, if summer is on the way, the doctor may want to remind you and your parent about safety issues, like wearing bike helmets, swimming only with adult supervision, and wearing sunscreen.

Don't forget that you can ask questions. Even if you feel a little funny or embarrassed, go ahead and ask your question. Doctors have heard it all before, and you might be surprised to learn that many other kids have asked the same question. By asking questions, you'll learn more about the way your body works and how you can take care of something very important — your health!

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.