How to avoid school-related illnesses and injuries, and when to see your pediatrician for them

Parents and kids are back to morning routines and nightly homework. Yet for many, the school year can come with unwelcome health issues. Shared classroom supplies, seasonal viruses and close contact on the playground can lead to illnesses, injuries and other conditions.

Libby W. Mims, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Associates – Shepherdsville, highlights several common reasons for school-related doctor’s visits.

Common school-related illnesses and injuries

Sore/strep throat
Strep throat, which is very common among young children and teens, is a contagious bacterial infection accompanied by fever, swollen lymph nodes and white patches on the roof of the mouth.

With sore throats, patients commonly have a fever as well. Most sore throats are caused by viruses and clear up on their own. Not all sore throats are caused by strep.

A strep infection can be verified and diagnosed by special testing at the doctor’s office. According to Dr. Mims, testing and treating strep throat early reduces the duration of symptoms and prevents complications such as rheumatic fever.

Good hand hygiene, covering your mouth while coughing or sneezing and avoiding using others’ drinking glass or utensils can help prevent spreading germs such as strep. Keep sores and cuts clean as well, since strep can get in your skin, too.

Pinkeye 
Pinkeye appears as redness in one or both eyes, and is often accompanied by drainage, discharge and itchiness.

“Pinkeye is one of the most contagious illnesses we see during the school year,” Dr. Mims said. “Yet a diagnosis by parents and caregivers is made more complicated because redness of an eye can be from allergies, lack of sleep or pinkeye.”

Pinkeye can be caused by a virus or bacteria. A viral infection will clear up on its own. Dr. Mims said waking up with one or both eyes sealed shut may indicate that the child has bacterial pinkeye and might need antibiotic eye drops before returning to school.

Preventive measures, such as good hand-washing and not sharing personal items, such as towels or pillows, will help keep an infection from spreading at home.

Head lice
Having head lice is one of the most discussed and confusing school-related conditions. According to Dr. Mims, while there are many misconceptions about head lice, the condition is not dangerous and often does not require children to miss multiple school days.

Teachers, parents and students often see lice on the scalp, where they lay eggs, called nits. The nits are attached to hair shafts near the scalp. Bites from head lice can cause moderate to severe itching, due to an allergic reaction.

“Parents sometimes see white flakes on a child’s shoulder or clothes and assume it’s head lice,” Dr. Mims said. “The general rule is, if it flakes, it’s not head lice.”

Getting rid of head lice can be challenging. Dr. Mims advises using a Food and Drug Administration-approved, over-the-counter treatment. In addition, lice and nits should be removed from wet hair with a fine-toothed comb. Children with head lice should not share pillows or combs with siblings, or have head-to-head contact with others.

Injuries 
Fall is normally the busiest season for sports medicine physicians. In addition to playing sports, students are in close contact on the playground during recess and are active in physical education classes.

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“We see a lot of strains, sprains, bumps and bruises, and, for most of those, if there is swelling and pain associated, they need to be evaluated right away,” Dr. Mims said.

According to Dr. Mims, children in elementary and middle school are still skeletally immature and can suffer from undetected injury.

“We actually don’t see a lot of sprains in those age groups. For example, a rolled or sprained ankle might actually be a growth plate fracture with the same symptoms and we would need to evaluate (it) a little closer,” Dr. Mims said.


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Norton Children's Medical Associates – Shepherdsville

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