Runny noses. Sore throats. Stomach aches. All are ubiquitous in households with children, and in fact, more than three out of four U.S. kids miss at least one day of school a year because they’re sick, according to the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.
But while many of the above are contagious, they usually resolve without much fanfare if they’re given proper treatment, says Laura Jana, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and associate research professor at Penn State Prevention Research Center.
Here, a look at four common kids’ health issues and how to treat them right.
The common cold is the most common illness for both kids and adults, causing U.S. children to miss about 22 million school days a year. And since youngsters under the age of 6 average six to eight colds per year (roughly one a month from September to April), that means a lot of time spent sneezing and snuffling.
Treatment tips: If a cold is affecting your kid’s health, symptoms should ease somewhat within two to three days (though some can linger for up to two weeks).
In the interim, you can relieve your child’s discomfort with acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) or ibuprofen (Advil and generic). A teaspoon of honey may help curb a cough (but don’t give this to babies less than a year old; honey can cause infant botulism in very young children). Some rest and fluids—including chicken soup—can also soothe your sick kid.
Skip over-the-counter cough and cold medicines—research shows they aren’t very effective, and in children under age 6 can have potentially serious side effects, such as increased heart rate and breathing difficulties. Some children may also experience an allergic reaction to such products.
And though you might be tempted to ask your pediatrician for antibiotics, don’t. Antibiotics can be useful for bacterial infections, such as strep throat, but are ineffective against a virus.
Despite this, about 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed to both children and adults are unnecessary, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “If your child takes antibiotics and doesn’t need them, they can upset her stomach and breed future antibiotic resistance,” Jana explains. Antibiotics can also have significant side effects.
Up to 30 percent of kids who have a sore throat during the winter actually have strep throat, a condition caused by the bacteria Group A streptococcus (GAS). It usually occurs during the winter and early spring and is most common in children over age 3.
Symptoms include a fever over 100.4° F, severe sore throat, headache, swollen neck glands, and sometimes, nausea and vomiting. If your child has a mild sore throat and coldlike symptoms, such as a stuffy or runny nose and coughing, it’s most likely a virus, Jana notes.
Treatment tips: If you suspect strep, the pediatrician can swab your child’s throat, do a rapid strep test, and get results within 5 minutes. For your kid’s health, treatment is with an antibiotic such as penicillin.
If your child gets a first dose by 5 p.m., he’s unlikely to be contagious by the next morning, but most schools require that youngsters with strep be on antibiotics for a full 24 hours before returning.
And there’s no need to toss out his toothbrush, despite the old wives’ tale that cites the need for a new one after strep. Most kids are on antibiotics for seven to 10 days, and the GAS bacteria don’t survive that long.
Diarrhea and Vomiting
More than 1.5 million kids see doctors every year for acute gastroenteritis, diarrhea that may or may not be accompanied by fever, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Up to 90 percent of cases are due to viruses, and most subside on their own in a day or two. But in the interim, they can make your youngster mighty uncomfortable.
Treatment tips: It’s important to help keep children who are vomiting or have diarrhea hydrated. But if your child has just thrown up, wait a bit before giving her fluid. “What a lot of parents don’t realize is that vomiting is a reflex that needs an hour or two to settle down,” Jana says.
Once your child’s tummy has rested, encourage her to sip small amounts of water throughout the day. She may not be able to drink a lot at a time. You can also offer a commercially prepared oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte.
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