Schools and child care centers are germ-central so it's just a matter of time before children come down with a viral or bacterial infection. Follow our tips for the best way to quickly get over feeling sick.
Every child faces the possibility of picking up a cold each year. A plethora of different rapidly-spreading viruses causes colds, so the body can never build resistance to all of them. Symptoms include runny or stuffy noses, headaches, low fever, lethargy, and sore throats. The best way to treat these is with plenty of rest, and by drinking clear liquids and gargling with salt water. Give appropriate doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) for pain but avoid aspirin in children due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious swelling of the liver and brain.
A sinus infection, or sinusitis, occurs when the tissue that lines the sinuses becomes inflamed. Sinuses are normally filled with air, but an infection can start if they become blocked with germs, bacteria, or fluid. Sinus infections are usually caused by a previously held cold or untreated allergies. If caused by a virus, sinus infections can be slightly contagious. Treatments include neti pots or sinus rinses, and antibiotics prescribed by a doctor if the infection doesn’t get better.
Ear infections, more common in children than adults, happen when the Eustachian tube that connects each ear to the back of the throat becomes blocked or swollen from a cold, sinus infection, allergies, or due to the shape of the tube. Fluid then starts to back up in the middle of the ear. Ear infections are not contagious and can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor in order to kill any bacteria in the tubes.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus and is marked by a tight, harsh cough. During the first few days of sickness, it can be difficult to distinguish from a cold. A health care clinician diagnoses bronchitis by listening carefully to the lungs. Most cases of acute bronchitis resolve without medical treatment in two weeks, though a cough may linger. Treatment includes rest and using a humidifier at home. Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for bronchitis unless it appears to have progressed to a bacterial infection.
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, occurs when the transparent membrane that lines the eyelid and eye becomes inflamed and swollen in one or both eyes. The infection is characterized by redness, itching, and a feeling of grit or sand in the eye. A crust often forms on the eyelashes overnight from discharge. Pink eye is caused by a virus, bacteria, or allergies, and is very contagious. Most cases clear on their own in less than two weeks, but antibiotic drops prescribed by a doctor can speed up the process. Viral infections have no treatment but warm or cool compresses can alleviate symptoms, while allergy-related pink eye can be cleared with antihistamines and anti-inflammatory eye drops.
Head lice are tiny insects that stir up the “ick” factor but are a fact of life among preschool and elementary school children. Fortunately, they do not transmit bacterial or viral infectious diseases, nor are a sign of poor hygiene. Lice live in the hair and feed on blood from the scalp. The main symptom is itching on the scalp, neck, and ears. Lice are visible but difficult to spot since they are small and move quickly. Live eggs (nits) are easiest to spot around the ears and neck hairline. Treatment includes over-the-counter (OTC) medicine applied to the scalp, with a follow-up application and thorough hair combing to eliminate the eggs. Before treatment, wash hair with shampoo and rinse with white vinegar to help release the nits from the hair. If OTC treatment doesn’t work, see a doctor for a prescription treatment.
Keep your child healthy this school year by reinforcing good handwashing habits, scrubbing well with soap for 20 seconds. Be sure your child knows not to share hats, articles of clothing, or combs and hairbrushes. Finally, add a small bottle of hand sanitizer to your child’s healthy lunch to be used before eating. Good habits that begin in childhood last a lifetime.
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