Children's Hospital Colorado

How Kids Are Different from Adults

A child patient at Children's Hospital Colorado pretends to examine a doctor.

Kids' bodies aren't just smaller than adults' bodies; they're physically different and require different medical knowledge and equipment for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Many diseases affect children and adults differently. For example, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a virus that commonly affects children every winter, can be very serious, even leading to respiratory failure in some cases. However, adults with RSV generally only have mild, cold-like symptoms.

Another difference between children and adults is that adults may take a few days to contract illness while children tend to be stricken with illness suddenly; in one moment, a child may not seem very sick, and the next moment he or she could be very ill. Being able to pinpoint childhood illnesses quickly, order only the tests needed, and have the results read by trained pediatric experts can make a huge difference in the outcome of a child's treatment.

Different treatments for different bodies

"Because kids change tremendously over time, diagnostic tests and treatments are different for children and are critical to proper outcomes," said Stephen Daniels, MD, Pediatrician-in-Chief and L. Joseph Butterfield, Chair in Pediatrics at Children's Hospital Colorado and Professor and Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "A great example is blood pressure. Pediatricians use a different set of numbers for each child based on his or her sex, age and height to determine if that child's blood pressure is within normal range."

There are also differences in language and cognition. Often, a child can't express what's wrong or may confuse fear with pain. A professional with training and experience can recognize the difference between fear and pain in a child and help to ease his or her concerns.

Experts at Children's Hospital Colorado

At all of Children's Colorado emergency and urgent care locations, everyone from physicians to lab techs specializes in pediatrics. Each location is electronically connected to our hospital in Aurora and has access to a pediatric emergency specialist at all times. While typical ER physicians undergo three months of pediatric training, pediatric emergency specialists at Children's have at least six years of pediatric emergency medical training, which makes them highly qualified to provide quality care to your child.

If your child is choking or needs immediate care, the best course of action is to call 911 or go to the nearest ER.

"Unless time is a critical issue, it's worth driving a little further to have your child seen by a pediatric expert," Dr. Daniels said. "It can make a huge difference in the child's recovery, even for something as simple as stitches or a broken bone."

How can you help ensure your child gets the best care?

One way to find out if your community hospital has the expertise required to treat children is to simply call and ask. You'll want to know if the emergency room's (ER) physicians, nurses and other staff are specially trained in and dedicated to pediatric emergency medicine. Recent studies show only a quarter of all ERs have access to doctors who are board-certified in pediatric emergency medicine, and more surprisingly, more than one-third don't have pediatric specialists on call at all.