Childhood illness may not affect your family until your child starts child care or school. After that, it may seem like he or she is sick all the time. This pattern is normal as your child is exposed to infection, becomes infected and builds his or her immune system. Resistance to infection develops over time as your child is immunized and as your child comes in contact with germs.
“The most important thing your child can do to prevent illness is to wash hands thoroughly and frequently,” says Meg Fisher, MD, chairman of Pediatrics and Medical Director of the Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water for 15 seconds — as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. When sinks are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used to clean hands. .”
The Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center identifies a lineup of the top five infectious illnesses in children.
The most common childhood illnesses are upper respiratory infections — colds and other viral ailments that affect the throat, nose and sinuses. While adults average two to four colds a year, children typically have six to 10. Children also tend to have more severe and longer lasting symptoms than do adults. Medications are not usually needed. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen reduce fever and discomfort but remember that fever is one of the main ways that your child’s body fights germs. . Do not give your children aspirin because it may trigger Reye's syndrome.
2. Vomiting and diarrhea (gastroenteritis)
The second most common childhood illness is gastroenteritis. This childhood illness causes vomiting and diarrhea, and can lead to dehydration, particularly in young children. Signs of dehydration include: excessive thirst, dry mouth, a decrease in the normal amount of urine or dark yellow urine, decreased tears, and severe weakness or lethargy. You can prevent dehydration by increasing the amount of fluids you child drinks; be sure to include some salty food as well as extra plain water. Although oral rehydration solutions can help replace lost fluids, minerals and salts, these solutions are expensive and not generally needed unless your child is already dehydrated. There is no need to stop foods, breast milk or formula. Diarrhea normally persists for a week or two.
3. Ear infection (otitis media)
Ear infections are common in infants and young children.The middle ear drains into the back of the nose so a respiratory illnesses picked up in daycare or school can interfere with drainage from the middle ear and lead to an infection. It can be difficult to distinguish between ear infections caused by bacteria and those caused by viruses. Antibiotics treat bacterial — but not viral — infections, and often even bacterial infections will be eradicated by the immune system without the use of antibiotics.
4. Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelids. When caused by viruses or bacteria, conjunctivitis is highly contagious. It is typically treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Warm or cool compresses may ease your child's discomfort. Allergies can also lead to pink eye; in this case, antibiotics are not helpful.
5. Sore throat
Most sore throats are caused by viruses and are usually associated with other respiratory symptoms, such as a runny nose and cough. About 15 percent of children's sore throats are caused by streptococci — bacteria that cause strep throat. Fevers above 101 F are common in strep throat, and swallowing can be so painful that your child may have difficulty eating. Antibiotics are required to treat strep throat, which can be diagnosed by a throat culture. Left untreated strep bacteria may cause other problems because the germ can spread or, very rarely, may cause rheumatic fever, which can affect the joints and the heart.
How long should sick kids stay home?
As a parent, you can help prevent the spread of illness by not sending a sick child to school or child care. Generally children can return to school when they: have no fever, can eat and drink normally, are rested and alert, and have finished the period of medically recommended isolation.
For more information on the Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center, visit www.barnabashealth.org. For referral to a pediatrician affiliated with Monmouth Medical Center, call 1-888-724-7123.
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