Should They Stay or Should They Go?
A day off of school is a treat for any child – except when they’re sick.
With the new school year just a few weeks old, it might seem a little early to be catching colds or the flu. But the reality is that children in classrooms are breeding grounds for the organisms that cause illness.
Little hands wipe dripping noses, and then transfer germs to their classmates or to community school supplies and toys. Then it’s just a matter of time….
Here are some of the most common ailments that keep children home during the school year.
It’s not surprising that the most common childhood illnesses are upper respiratory infections – colds and other viruses that affect the throat, nose and sinuses. On average, children may catch six or more colds a year. And when they do, their symptoms tend to be more severe and longer-lasting than adults.
Over-the-counter nasal decongestants and cough suppressants may help relieve symptoms temporarily. If your child has a fever, use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin). Never give your child aspirin because it may trigger Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease.
2. The stomach flu (gastroenteritis)
Another common childhood illness is gastroenteritis, more commonly known as the stomach flu, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, and can lead to dehydration, particularly in very young children. Signs of dehydration include:
- Excessive thirst
- Dry mouth
- Little or no urine, or dark yellow urine
- Decreased tears
- Severe weakness or lethargy
Pedialyte or Gatorade can help replace lost fluids, minerals and salts. When your child is no longer vomiting, start with easy-to-digest items like broth, rice, toast and bananas (the BRAT diet).
3. Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is a common problem during childhood, and is easily spread between children during the school year. The most common symptoms include red, itchy, or burning eyes, with discharge from the eyes and crusting on the eyelashes.
Most childhood cases of pinkeye (97%) are caused by viral infections like colds.
Treatment may consist of eye drops, warm compresses, and isolation from other children. If your child develops impaired vision or eye pain accompanied by fever, seek medical care.
4. Sore throat
Most sore throats are caused by viruses and are usually associated with a runny nose and cough. But about 15 percent of children’s sore throats are caused by streptococci, the bacteria that cause strep throat.
If your child is complaining of throat pain, here are a few clues that it may be strep. Fevers often rise above 101 F, and painful swallowing may make eating extremely uncomfortable. Seek medical care. The only effective diagnostic method for strep is a strep test or throat culture. If these tests are positive, then the child requires antibiotics.
The single most important thing your child can do to prevent illness is to wash his or her hands thoroughly and frequently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wash their hands with soap and warm water for 15 seconds – about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers also can keep hands clean.
How long should sick kids stay home?
You can help prevent the spread of illness by keeping your sick child at home. Some schools or child care centers require that children with strep throat or pink eye be on antibiotic therapy for 24 hours before returning.
Usually, though, children can return to school when they have no fever; can eat and drink normally; are rested and alert enough to pay attention in class; and have completed any medically recommended isolation.
Gradually, school-age children become less prone to common ailments and recover more quickly when they do. For more information, here are two very useful websites to visit: www.familydoctor.org and www.aap.org/parents.html (the American Academy of Pediatrics).