Beat the Back to School Bugs
Byline: DR ELLIE CANNON
[bar] Y THE middle of September, my surgery is heaving with children who have already fallen ill a couple of weeks into the new school term. Tummy bugs, coughs and colds all seem to thrive once kids are jam-packed in the classroom all day.
I certainly notice this with my own children.
I think the early mornings and long day at school can take their toll on the immune system, which is why I insist they get an early night.
The important thing is most of these back-to-school infections are usually mild and require minimal treatment at home with the help of a pharmacist or your GP.
Here is a comprehensive guide to the most common of school ailments - and how to tackle them...
Keep on top of lice WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS? An itchy head -- this may start three months after the initial infection of head lice.
'They are parasitic insects between 1mm and 3mm long that live on the head and feed on human blood. Many people mistakenly call them nits, but nits are the hatched or dead eggs,' says nurse consultant Christine Brown, who advises primary care trusts on headlice policy.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? 'Not everyone has itching. Check your children's heads once a week,' she recommends.
'Lice look like dandruff but stick to the hair. Look for live insects. Use silicone-based treatments such as Hedrin Treat & Go Mousse ([euro]16, available nationwide) which coats the lice so they die. Lice have developed resistance to previous pesticide treatments.' You can comb out lice from wet hair using a special fine-toothed comb and normal conditioner. However, clinical trials have shown this to be only 57 per cent effective and it is time-consuming. WHEN TO SEEK HELP Sometimes an allergic reaction to bites can cause dermatitis and infection. If your child has intense itching (and skin is bleeding) see a GP.
DO THEY NEED TO BE OFF SCHOOL? No. Children can return to school immediately after treatment - however, you MUST treat them. Under public health law it is a requirement that they be treated.
'In extreme cases of neglect, social services might get involved,' says Brown.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS? Coughs and colds are usually viruses and spread by sneezing -- children are notoriously hopeless at covering their mouths. 'Sneezing, coughing and sniffing are inevitable for most children,' says Dr Michael Markiewicz, a leading consultant paediatrician.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? Cough syrups are unlikely to make much difference. So give paracetamol for a temperature.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP 'If a child has a very sore throat or isn't sleeping because of high fever, see your GP,' Dr Markiewicz says. 'They may have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics.' DO THEY NEED TO BE OFF SCHOOL? Usually only if a child has a temperature.
Pain of chickenpox WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS? Chickenpox is a viral infection causing a rash of blisters which causes pain and itching, eventually crusting over into scabs and dropping off. A fever is also possible.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? 'Paracetamol relieves fevers and discomfort. Sedating antihistamines such as Piriton relieve itching,' says consultant paediatrician Dr Jideofor Menakaya.' Experts warn against parents holding 'chickenpox parties' because although serious complications with this illness are rare, they do still happen. Calamine lotion may help itchy skin or try ViraSoothe Chickenpox Relief Cooling Gel ([euro]11.99, 75ml). Make sure to give plenty of fluids.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP 'If your child has eczema they may benefit from the chickenpox vaccine before contracting the condition. Chickenpox on top of eczema can be very distressing,' says Dr Michael Markiewicz. Dr Menakaya adds: 'Meningitis and encephalitis are rare but possible complications. For example, if a child is floppy and unresponsive, not drinking or passing urine properly or has a high temperature, see a doctor. …