Must My Child Always Get Sick When School Starts?

Wow. It’s that time of year again — back to school time. Let’s see… new clothes, shoes, backpacks, supplies… there went the budget for this month! The kids are already complaining about the amount of homework they have to do, and Friday nights are all planned around football. Things are going pretty much in a normal pattern until you get a call from the school nurse telling you that your child is sick. This is the same child who was as healthy as a horse all summer long. And, of course, you can’t afford to miss work any more than your child can afford to miss school. Sound familiar? How can you prevent this? And exactly when is your child too sick to go to school? Let’s look at the most common ailments seen among school children and adults alike, because these same ailments find their way into the workplace as well.
Get ready, because Fall is a prime time for ragweed, mold and other allergens. We begin to see a significant increase in allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, runny noses, and sneezing fits shortly after school starts. Generally speaking, allergies don’t keep kids out of school, but they can sure make them miserable. Thankfully, we now have some excellent over-the-counter non-sedating antihistamines and nasal steroids available to control the symptoms. To minimize allergy issues, wash bed linens weekly and vacuum rugs and carpets regularly — or eliminate them altogether if possible.
But what about when the clear, colorless fluid coming out of your child’s nose turns thicker or yellow? Is it a cold or is it a sinus infection? Good question. Colds are caused by viruses and simply have to run their course because antibiotics have no effect on viral illnesses. Granted, we have plenty of medications to help with cold symptoms, but that’s about it. Since sinus infections look like a cold, to treat or not to treat — that is the question. It’s a conundrum for pediatricians and primary care physicians who try not to prescribe antibiotics when they simply aren’t needed and keep parents happy who want their children well yesterday. Generally speaking, cold symptoms that have not improved or are getting worse after 10 to 14 days likely need the attention of a doctor. To reduce the spread of colds, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, use tissues instead of the old fashioned handkerchief, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer routinely. Confession time: I love my old fashioned handkerchiefs!
In my opinion, a far less pleasant issue is an outbreak of gastroenteritis — the dreaded stomach virus. Don’t you just love it when your child comes down with diarrhea and vomiting? Yuk! A nasty virus in the GI tract causes this and seemingly spreads from one person to another at the speed of light. According to WebMD, this is when hand washing becomes a survival skill. Sadly, there isn’t much you can do about the stomach flu but keep your child hydrated and comfortable. However, if they complain of abdominal pain or have a fever, make sure to seek medical attention just to rule out something more serious.
One last one — head lice problems always increase right after school starts. Just so you know, the presence of head lice does not indicate poor hygiene, and the lice don’t jump from one person to another. They mainly crawl from one head to another, feed on blood, and lay eggs (called nits) that hatch within one to two weeks. Head lice thrive when back to school time arrives because kids are in such close contact with one another, especially in preschool or kindergarten. According to Dr. Michael Posner with the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Head lice are pretty creepy, but they’re not dangerous.” There are some very effective treatments available at the pharmacy without a prescription, but the instructions have to be followed carefully, especially the removal of nits with a very fine-tooth comb. Make sure to check all family members, and don’t share pillows or combs.
For advice about any of these or other common back-to-school ailments like sore throats or conjunctivitis, give Blake, Bailey or me a call at 501-336-8188. We are always eager to help.