It can be hard not to get worked up over every bump, scrape or cold symptom your child experiences, especially if you’re a new parent. The good news is, you can be vigilant about your kid’s health without compromising your sanity—and education is the key, area doctors say. Here, they offer their views on vaccines, injuries and common illnesses so you can help your family stay healthy and happy.
Figuring out the seriousness of a child’s illness or injury can be a bit confusing. Are those flulike symptoms really the flu, or is something more urgent going on? Washington University pediatrician Dr. Lisa Ryan says it’s always best to err on the side of caution, and parents should not hesitate to call a health care provider if they’re unsure what symptoms mean. With that said, a bit of practical knowledge can help you decide when medical attention is needed.
✪ Fever is a common symptom with many possible causes. “It’s a much bigger deal in infants than older children,” Ryan explains. “Up to 3 months of age, a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher is reason to seek medical attention. If an older child has a fever of 102 but is behaving normally, it’s probably not as much of a worry. But if the child has a 101-degree fever and is lethargic or not eating and drinking, then it’s cause for concern. And with a fever of 105 degrees or more, it’s definitely time to call the doctor.”
✪ Ryan says vomiting and loose stools usually signal a simple stomach bug, but if they persist, it’s best to get medical help. Diarrhea that lasts more than five days, blood in the stool and newborn vomiting without diarrhea may be cause for concern.
✪ Minor cuts and scrapes should be kept clean and covered with a bandage to prevent infection, Ryan advises. “The site should become less painful over time,” she says. “If there’s drainage, or if redness and tenderness get worse, seek medical attention. Kids’ symptoms can be very nuanced, so it’s best to have your child evaluated by a health care provider if you’re concerned. We tell parents that it’s never a waste of time to be on the safe side.”
other symptoms you shouldn’t ignore:
✪ Bad headache
✪ Lethargy or weakness
✪ Widespread skin rash
✪ Neck stiffness
✪ Serious pain
Dr. Sarah AuBuchon of Southwest Pediatrics says some states are seeing a recurrence of childhood diseases mostly eradicated through vaccination. “Measles is of particular concern,” she says. “It hasn’t become a problem in Missouri yet, but states like New York, Washington and California have reported cases. There have been more than 1,000 in the U.S. so far this year—more than we’ve seen in the past 20 years combined.”
She says the upswing is related to vaccine refusal by parents. “Many families think that because a disease basically has been eliminated, they don’t have to vaccinate anymore, but that leads to a false sense of security,” she notes. “Others say they want to practice a more ‘natural’ lifestyle, and they believe the body’s innate immunity is enough to protect their children. Unfortunately, it isn’t.”
AuBuchon says an outbreak of mumps sparked concern a couple of years ago, and there was a spike in pertussis (whooping cough) about a decade ago. Now, she notes, pertussis vaccine is given along with tetanus shots, and the number of cases has declined as a result. She stresses that immunizations are critical to kids’ and communities’ overall health and advises talking with a pediatrician about any questions or concerns. Claims of vaccines causing conditions like autism have been proven false, underscoring the importance of proper education.
According to AuBuchon, official guidelines on HPV (human papillomavirus) immunization have changed. Originally, the vaccine was intended for girls and young women, but it’s now recommended for boys and young men as well. The sexually transmitted virus can cause cervical, throat and other cancers that develop in adulthood. “It’s best to receive the HPV vaccine before turning 15,” AuBuchon advises. “This provides the highest immune response because the body can make more antibodies at that age.” Kids should receive a booster vaccination 6 to 12 months after the first. If the series is started after age 15, three shots are given over a period of six months.
what is measles?
It’s a highly contagious respiratory disease that can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, deafness and even death. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red skin rash, diarrhea, ear infection and eye redness. An infected person can pass the virus to others via breathing, coughing or sneezing. The MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine helps protect against infection.
did you know?
Each year in the U.S., 300,000 women are diagnosed with precancerous cervical tissue. About 11,000 of these cases are caused by HPV, and 4,000 women die from the disease. Cervical cancer used to be a leading cause of cancer deaths in women, but early screening and vaccination have made it one of the most preventable.
keeping active kids safe
If you’re like most parents, you want your children to enjoy playing outdoors and participating in sports. Kids benefit both mentally and physically from exercise, but unfortunately, it also brings risk of injury. Dr. Ryan Pomajzl, an orthopedic surgeon at SSM Health DePaul Hospital, says parents can teach their kids how to have fun without getting hurt.
“These days, the majority of injuries are from overuse of certain body parts,” Pomajzl explains. “Many kids participate in a single sport for a prolonged period because they want to become good at it. In baseball, for example, they try to throw harder and reach higher pitch counts, which can lead to repetitive motion injuries. Parents should encourage kids to take time off, rest and try other activities that use different muscles.”
He says famous athletes often acknowledge that playing a variety of sports in school helped them stay strong as adults. “Using different parts of the body at different times is helpful,” he notes. “Children’s bodies are still developing, and their growth plates (surfaces at the ends of bones) are still open, so they can’t train like a 25-year-old can. If kids overdo it, there may be negative effects on their growth.” Even jumping on a trampoline can cause problems for small bodies. “Young children’s tissues aren’t made to withstand that kind of force or impact,” Pomajzl says. “They are more at risk, and injuries often happen when more than one child is on the trampoline.”
He says during team practices, kids should do muscle conditioning exercises to increase strength and flexibility and reduce joint stress. Properly fitting pads and helmets are essential for bike riding and contact sports, and mouthpieces can help protect kids’ teeth on the playing field. “Ask your child’s doctor for information on preventing damage to tendons, ligaments and other growing tissues,” he says. “Inflammation can snowball, and surgery may become necessary. That’s something we want to avoid.”
quick tips to avoid injury:
✪ Wear protective gear.
✪ Stay hydrated.
✪ Eat a nutritious diet.
✪ Rest often.
✪ Get enough sleep.