Living Well: Avoid back-to-school illnesses
If you have school-aged children, you may regret the start of school, simply because it can also mean the start of cold and flu season. That’s because, on average, elementary-age children experience eight to 12 bouts of colds or the flu each school year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s almost one per month.
You are likely amazing at teaching your young children to wash their hands regularly and coughing into their sleeves — which is great — but they still might get sick. That’s because the immune systems of young kids are often not as strong as older kids, plus they are always touching their faces, hands, other kids, and everything around them. It’s no wonder they get sick a lot.
Still, teaching kids to wash their hands before eating and after bathroom use will help. If you haven’t already, teach them to wash their hands as long as it takes them to sing the ABCs, even getting soap up to their elbows. Also, pack a water bottle, so they are not using the drinking fountain. According to the National Sanitation Foundation, the germiest place in school is the water fountain spigot, followed by cafeteria trays, sink faucet handles, keyboards, and the toilet seat. You don’t want to create a little germaphobe, but you could attach a hand sanitizer to their backpack for times when they can’t wash.
One of the best defenses against illness is healthy eating and sleeping habits. Elementary-aged children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep. They also need plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, along with daily exercise. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids get an hour of physical activity each day for good health. Exercise has the extra benefit of boosting the immune system, which helps kids better fight off illnesses.
What kids are catching
According to a statistical brief published by the National Institutes of Health, upper respiratory infections are the number-one reason parents seek same-day urgent care for their children for illnesses.
“The most common reason I see children at MRH Rapid Care is cold and cough symptoms related to upper respiratory infections,” said Maggie Schoeberl, PA-C. “We also see quite a bit of strep throat during the school year.”
With strep, a sore throat often comes on quickly, along with pain when swallowing, red and swollen tonsils, and tiny red spots in the back of the throat. Kids can experience fever, headache, rash, nausea, and body aches, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s good to know that, if one person has strep in the household, you don’t all have to automatically get checked — only when symptoms occur. Strep throat is a bacterial infection that is treated with antibiotics.
Treating upper respiratory infections
Since antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, not viruses, often, the treatment for URIs is rest, fluids, and some over-the-counter medicines to treat symptoms. Worsening symptoms can indicate a secondary infection — bronchitis, a sinus infection, an ear infection, or pneumonia.
If a fever or cough worsens, or if your child is experiencing facial pain or headaches, it’s time to seek care. Secondary infections often develop seven to 10 days after the start of the URI.
“Any time you have a virus, you are more susceptible to a bacterial infection. Most commonly in children, this means an ear infection or pneumonia,” Schoeberl said.
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