Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Autumn Issue 2012 | Lucy Elkins
A change in the seasons means it must be time for the kids to go down with something.
When children go back to school, rates of common childhood infections, such as colds and tummy bugs, rise significantly.
“If you have an environment with sometimes up to 30 children in a room all milling together, it is inevitable that they will pass on illness,” says Dr Eddie Douek, a Consultant Paediatrician, at The Portland Hospital.
“In many ways, it is like getting on an aeroplane – suddenly you are in a small environment with a lot of people all bringing their own host of germs.”
A common problem that peaks when children start back at school is head lice. These spread by head-to-head contact. Estimates of the number of children infected with head lice each year in this country ranges from over 700,000 to three million.
“Most parents will unfortunately have some experience of head lice – the typical symptom of an infestation is a child scratching his or her head,” says Dr Douek.
If you suspect your child has head lice, check their head for black spots about the size of a pin head. If you do find even one louse, then start treatment as there may be more eggs in the hair waiting to hatch.
“You don’t need to go to the doctor – there are a variety of treatments available from the chemist,” says Dr Douek.
“Using a special head lice comb is another good option.”
For best results, apply conditioner to the hair first to make the head lice easier to comb out.
Head lice are not the only thing that can spread quickly through a class. The chicken pox season peaks during the spring and winter. Nine out of ten children develop chicken pox – so it is more a question of when, not if, they develop it.
It is caused by the highly infectious varicella-zoster virus and some people hold pox parties – to allow children to pick up the infection and ‘get it out of the way.’
“I would advise against this as, for some children, it can be an unpleasant illness,” says Dr Douek.
“For some children who have a compromised immune system, it is a good idea to get them vaccinated against chicken pox.”
One mistake parents make with chicken pox is to apply calamine lotion to the spots.
“This may give a momentary calming effect, however it does then tend to dry and make the itch worse,” says Dr Douek.
“An antihistamine is better for reducing the itch.”
Eye infections – typically conjunctivitis - are another typical school child ailment. This is an eye infection which causes the white of the eyes to look bloodshot and the eye lashes may become sticky with discharge.
If a child has conjunctivitis, discourage them from rubbing their eyes and designate them their own towel for drying their hands to prevent cross-infection within the family.
“It’s best treated with antibiotic drops – available over the counter - which are suitable for children aged two and up,” says Dr Douek.
“If it doesn’t get better with this, then do seek medical help.”
Keep the eye free of debris by using cotton wool dabbed in cooled boiled water. Younger children under the age of two who show signs of conjunctivitis should be taken to their GP.
Ear infections are a common problem until around the age of six. A child with an ear infection will normally complain of pain or pull at their ear and there may be some discharge.
“With these you need to go to the GP as it is impossible to diagnose the problem at home – a parent can’t see into the ear properly,” says Dr Ahmed Massoud, a Consultant Paediatrician also at The Portland Hospital.
“Sometimes antibiotics will be given – but in around 60 per cent of cases the infection is caused by a virus so antibiotics will be of no use.”
Tonsillitis usually comes on as a sore throat, with a mild fever. Some may also have ear ache or feelings of nausea.
“It’s best to treat this with Calpol to ease pain and any fever,” says Dr Douek.
“If it doesn’t improve, however, then see your GP as antibiotics may be required.”
“With tummy bugs, the most important thing to do is to keep the child hydrated,” says Dr Massoud.
“The younger the child, the sooner medical attention should be sought – so a baby with diarrhoea and vomiting needs to be taken to the doctor or to A & E unless their symptoms clear very quickly,” he adds.
“A parent is often the best judge of when a child is not very well and needs urgent medical attention.”
The problem with just about all childhood complaints is that they are almost impossible to avoid.
“It is upsetting for a parent to see their child looking and feeling unwell but childhood ailments are a normal part of development and do contribute towards developing a healthy immune system,” says Dr Douek.
The chickenpox vaccine is not part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule but is offered privately by all of the General Paediatricians at The Portland Hospital.
For further information or to book an appointment for the vaccine call 020 7390 8020