Protect Your Child from Getting Sick
It’s fall and the kids are back in school. For many parents, this time of year is a source of great concern as children may now be exposed to a myriad of illnesses.
With school back in session, kids are within close proximity of each other, sharing utensils, the same door handles, balls and, of course, each other’s germs. Couple that with an immature immune system that has not had the opportunity to build resistance to illness, and you have the answer to why so many kids get sick each and every school year.
This time of year, I routinely see the full gamut of illnesses that children are exposed to including upper respiratory tract infections such as colds and the flu, infections such as pinkeye, and other sicknesses. Among preschool students, I frequently see hand, foot and mouth disease, which manifests itself with blisters and cold-like symptoms.
While it is a pretty sure bet that your child will come in contact with illness this season, you can minimize their chance of actually becoming sick and/or reduce the length and severity of their illness by following some of the suggested recommendations below:
1. Get your child vaccinated.
Consistent with state law, all school-age children need to be up-to-date on vaccines prior to entering school.
2. Schedule regular check-ups.
See to it that your kids receive regular check-ups with a pediatrician. Getting regular check-ups helps to ensure your child has a healthy working immune system, and you’ll receive a careful evaluation of their nutrition and sleeping habits so you can help keep them healthy.
3. Keep your germs to yourself.
During cold and flu season, one great option for children is to pretend to use a “scarf” while coughing or sneezing. “Wearing a scarf” is a non-literal term to remind kids to cough or sneeze into their elbows and their imaginary “scarf” – as opposed to their hands. This will keep the germs away from the child or those they may come into contact with in the classroom.
4. Use good hand-washing techniques.
One of the most effective – yet least utilized – techniques among children for staying healthy is washing their hands. With the plentiful amount of coughing, sneezing and touching that goes on in a school setting, all it takes is one touch by a child to their nose and they start spreading germs. The answer: proper hand washing. I recommend a child wash hands after each use of the restroom, before a meal or a snack and, generally, any time their hands come in contact, or will come in contact, with their face.
I’m often asked, “How long should I wash my hands for?” My response, and one of my most popular suggestions for children, is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to themselves while washing their hands with a good lather of soap under warm water. This usually takes about 20 seconds and is an effective and fun way to remember how to wash properly.
5. Sharing is not always good.
While sharing is certainly a wonderful value we want to instill in our children, when it comes to germs, we need to draw the line. Parents should advise their children not to share articles of clothing – which serve as repositories for germs – especially hats, which can carry lice. Parents should also dissuade their children from sharing juice boxes or any other beverage container that could transmit germs.
6. Keep your home germ-free.
I encourage parents to keep germs at bay with the use of disinfectant cleaning products, frequently wiping down high-traffic areas including door knobs, countertops, bathrooms, play toys and, of course, children’s rooms. Also, keep lots of tissues handy so your children will opt for those rather than their hands when coughing or sneezing. In addition, encourage your children to take off their shoes and leave them outside when coming home from school. Lastly, have them get out of their school clothes once at home. Best to leave those germs outside or headed for the washing machine rather than share them with the rest of the family.
7. What is my child is sick?
Despite all of your good efforts, sometimes your child will get sick. If they are less than 6 months of age, be sure to first call your doctor before giving them any medications. For a cold or flu, have your child rest, drink lots of fluids and control pain and fever with acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Motrin). Other great remedies include a steamer humidifier or a saline nose spray. Should a fever last longer than three days, immediately see a doctor. When determining the best time for your child to return to school after being sidelined with a cold or flu, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that a child be fever-free for 24 hours.
It’s that time of year when germs abound, so it’s inevitable that your child will come into contact with illness in a school setting. Being prepared can mean the difference between him or her contracting an illness or not. Hopefully, the above tips will keep you and your loved ones safe and sick-free this school year. Remember the old and wise saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Stay healthy!
Dr. Neepa Makim is a pediatrician with John Muir Health Outpatient Center in Pleasanton. Learn more by visiting www.johnmuirhealth.com. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.