Measles: All about the measles vaccines

Two measles vaccines are part of the standard vaccine schedule in the US. Do you know when outbreaks change the recommendations?

In my last post I discussed why we should worry about measles. Today I’ll talk about the measles vaccines available to prevent the disease.

What measles vaccines are available?

There are two types of measles vaccines in the United States: MMR and MMRV.

There is no longer a separate measles vaccine available in the US.

MMR

The MMR includes protection against measles, mumps, and rubella. This vaccine can be used in infants 6 months and older and is the only vaccine approved over 13 years of age for those who need to catch up on vaccines.

The CDC recommends that MMR and varicella vaccines be given as separate injections for the first dose in children 12-47 months of age.

MMRV

In addition to measles, mumps, and rubella, the MMRV has protection against varicella (chicken pox). The MMRV can be used from 12 months through 12 years of age (until the 13th birthday).

Using the MMRV vaccine has the benefit of one fewer injection, but there are some downsides.

  • It cannot be used as an early dose of measles protection prior to 12 months of age.
  • The MMRV should not be used in those 13 years and older.
  • The MMRV has a higher risk of fever within 42 days after vaccination compared to the MMR and Varicella vaccines being given in separate injections, even when they’re given on the same date in children 12-24 months of age. There is less data on children 24-47 months of age, but it is likely that they also have this increased risk.
  • The MMRV has a higher risk of febrile seizures from 5-12 days after vaccination compared to the MMR + Varicella being given in separate injections, even if given on the same date.

What is the typical age of vaccination?

One of the measles vaccines is recommended routinely at 12-15 months and then again at 4-6 years.

Either the MMR or the MMRV can be used at these standard times.

If the MMR is used, a separate varicella vaccine can be used at the same time or at a different time.

Can the 2nd dose be given early?

Yes. An early 2nd dose does count as the second dose as long as it is separated by at least 28 days from other live virus vaccines.

Early second doses do count toward the required two doses after the first birthday. There is no minimum age for the second dose, as long as both doses are after the 1st birthday and a month apart.

What does the booster dose do?

Contrary to common belief, the MMR/MMRV second dose is not a booster to increase the immunity of the first dose.

About 93% of people respond to their first measles vaccine and are protected against the measles. They are protected and wouldn’t need a booster, but we can’t easily tell if any individual person is immune after the first dose. It is also possible that a person is immune to some of the MMR/MMRV components but not to all of the components, so another dose is needed for protection to be more reliable.

The second vaccine helps more people convert to being immune. After the second dose, 97% of people are immune to measles.

There are some people (3%) who are not immune despite two doses, which is why we sometimes hear of a vaccinated person still getting the disease.

Herd immunity is one reason why it is important for everyone in a community who is eligible to get the vaccine to be immunized. By immunizing the community, we can protect those in the community who are not able to be vaccinated due to young age or medical condition and those who are vaccine non-responders.

High risk situations: outbreaks and travel

It is recommended to receive an MMR (or MMRV if age indicated) if there is a local outbreak and the health department recommends an early vaccine or if an infant 6-12 months of age will be traveling to an area of increased risk.

Infants and children in high risk areas can get the second dose as early as 4 weeks after the first.

Either of the measles vaccines can be used as long as they are indicated for the age of the person being vaccinated.

More about early doses

MMR can be given to infants at least 6 months of age if they are considered high risk due to travel or outbreaks.

It is not recommended for all babies to get an early vaccine at this point.

Local health departments help to advise whether or not local conditions warrant early vaccination.

International travelers should be vaccinated against measles after 6 months of age due to the higher risk of exposure during travel.

Why not give to babies under 6 months?

Under 6 months of age an infant is considered protected from his or her mother’s antibodies. These antibodies leave the baby between 6 and 12 months after birth.

The antibodies prevent the vaccine from properly working, which is why we generally start the vaccine after the first birthday, when the antibodies have likely gone away.

Does an early dose count?

Any measles vaccine dose given before the first birthday does not count toward the two doses required after 12 months of age, but might help protect against exposure if the immunity from the mother is waning.

As mentioned above, an early 2nd dose does count as long as the first dose is after the 1st birthday and the second dose is at least 28 days later.

Is it safe to give the MMR before 12 months?

It is safe for a child to get extra doses of the vaccine if needed for increased risk of exposure between 6 and 12 months.

As discussed above, it is not because of safety that it is not routinely given earlier. It may not be effective at this age if the baby still has maternal immunity.

What’s the deal with live virus vaccines?

All live virus vaccines must be given either on the same date or a month apart. If they are given too close together on different dates they are less effective and the second one given does not count.

Other types of vaccines do not have this restriction, only live virus vaccines.

Examples of live virus vaccines include:

  • MMR
  • MMRV
  • Varicella
  • FluMist (only the nasal influenza vaccine, not the injectable flu vaccine)
  • Oral typhoid (not on the routine vaccine schedule, but recommended for international travel)
  • BCG (a vaccine against tuberculosis that is used in some countries, but not the US)
  • Oral polio (a vaccine no longer used in the US, but still in use in other countries)
  • Yellow fever (not on the routine vaccine schedule, but required prior to visiting some countries)
  • Zoster (a vaccine for older adults, not children)

For example…

If your child has FluMist (the nasal flu vaccine) on October 1st, if he or she gets the MMR or MMRV on October 15th, the MMR/MMRV won’t count.

This is becoming more difficult to track as pharmacies, work places, and other clinics offer vaccines. I can think of one instance where a parent had a child get a nasal flu vaccine a couple of weeks before the other parent brought the child in for kindergarten shots. The 2nd parent was not aware of the flu vaccine, so the live virus vaccines given at the routine well visit had to be repeated a month later. The child was not happy!

Always get documentation of the vaccines your child gets and be sure if it’s not done at your child’s primary care office that they get a copy! If you’re transferring to a new physician, request a transfer of records in writing before your first visit to your new medical home so they have what they need to best care for your family!

Tuberculosis testing with PPD

Although this is not a live virus vaccine, tuberculosis testing can also be affected by live virus vaccines.

A false negative skin test can occur if any live vaccine is given during the month BEFORE the TB skin test is done.

If MMR vaccine is given, you should wait at least 4 weeks before doing the TB skin test unless it is given on the same date.

All vaccines, live or inactivated, can be given on the same day or at any time AFTER a TB skin test is done.

What if someone who hasn’t been vaccinated is exposed to measles?

Unvaccinated people who are exposed to measles can be given post-exposure prophylaxis unless they have a vaccine contraindication.

If the MMR vaccine is given within 72 hours of initial measles exposure it may provide some protection or lead to a less severe infection.

Immunoglobulin (IG) can be given within 6 days of exposure to provide some protection.

If you think you’ve been exposed, contact your physician and/or the local health department.

Who shouldn’t be vaccinated?

The long list of medical contraindications to vaccines that some promote is not valid. There are very few contraindications to getting the MMR vaccine. These include:

  • Age less than 6 months of age
  • Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) after a previous dose or to a vaccine component or neomycin
  • Those with a known severe immunodeficiency (chemotherapy, congenital immunodeficiency, long-term immunosuppressive therapy, and some with human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] infection)
  • Pregnant women

Some conditions have precautions, but not true contraindications, to the MMR vaccine. The risks and benefits of vaccination should be discussed if a person has the following:

  • Moderate or severe acute illness
  • Tuberculosis testing (see separate section above)
  • Antibody-containing blood products within the previous 11 months
  • Those who have received a live virus vaccine in the previous 4 weeks
  • Seizure history

What about adults?

People born before 1957 are presumed to be immune to measles because they lived through several measles epidemics before the vaccine became available.

It is not considered necessary to check titers for these adults unless they are in a high risk group, such as healthcare providers. If their titers do not show immunity, they should be vaccinated according to current recommendations.

Adults born after 1957 should have documentation of two measles vaccines or the disease. Before 1980 it was only recommended to have one vaccine, so some adults may require another dose.

If documentation is not available, titers can be done to see if you’re immune or need a vaccine. Some may choose to simply get an MMR. Talk to your doctor.

Checking titers

Titers can show if people are at risk, but are not recommended routinely. Because of the overall high level of protection (97%), the cost-benefit ratio of testing titers routinely is not in favor of testing.

Certain persons, such as healthcare providers, may have to show immunity or get additional vaccine doses.

What are the vaccine recommendations for measles during an outbreak? How do they differ from the routine schedule? @pediatricskc

In summary

Two doses of one of the measles vaccines available is recommended for everyone after their first birthday. A dose can be given between 6 and 12 months if there is high risk but it does not count toward those two.

The MMR vaccine can be used in any person over 6 months of age if they are needing a measles vaccine, as long as they have not received another live virus vaccine in the previous 28 days.

The MMRV vaccine can be used between 12 months and 13 years of age. There is a higher risk of fever and febrile seizures with this vaccine compared to the MMR + Varicella vaccines given separately (even on the same date).

The first measles vaccine provides protection 93% of the time. The second dose increases the protection to 97% of people.

It is very important that where you are getting your vaccines has access to previous vaccines given, especially if you are getting any live virus vaccines. Keep a copy of all your family member’s vaccines available at all times.

If you are changing primary care physicians for any reason, have your records transferred prior to your first visit. This must be done in writing, but your doctor must provide these. The cost of these records will be determined by the hospital or clinic and state laws.

Always keep records of your family’s vaccine records easily available. You will need these for school entry, many camps, some volunteer or work positions, and more.

Getting one of the measles vaccines is not the only type of vaccine to get. We’re seeing outbreaks of measles currently, but any of the vaccine preventable diseases can make a come back if given the opportunity.

Measles: What’s all the fuss about?

Why is everyone so worked up about the measles showing up all around the country? Is it really a big deal?

Measles is a big deal. If you understand that, you can stop reading right now. If you’re not sure why it’s so important that we vaccinate against this disease, read on. If you’re worried about the vaccine and haven’t protected your children with it, you need to learn about the disease.

Measles is highly contagious.

But it’s also preventable.

If all eligible persons are vaccinated, we can protect those who can’t be vaccinated due to young age or medical condition. This herd immunity is very important to our communities. Sadly, our herd is not protective at this point. Too many are not vaccinating due to unwarranted fears. This leaves too many vulnerable to disease, which allows infection to spread rapidly.

There are a very limited number of conditions that are true medical exemptions, but if herd immunity is high enough we can keep measles from spreading. Using false exemptions drops that herd immunity rate, leading to outbreaks like we’re seeing now.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the vaccine and the risks of the disease, so here’s a quick run down of the risks of a measles infection. I’ll cover the vaccines in the next post.

Why worry?

Measles is highly contagious and can be deadly.

Symptoms commonly include fever, rash, diarrhea, pneumonia, and ear infections.

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a rare form of chronic progressive brain inflammation caused by measles virus. It can show up many years after someone is presumed to be healed from the disease, much like shingles can affect a person years after chicken pox disease.

For every 1,000 reported measles cases in the US, approximately 1 case of encephalitis (brain inflammation) and 2-3 deaths is found. The risk for death is greater for infants, young children, and adults than for older children and adolescents.

How contagious is measles?

Measles can be spread through the air of a room 2 hours after an infected person leaves. The rash doesn’t usually appear until approximately 14 days after exposure, 2 to 4 days after the fever begins.

A person is contagious 4 days before the rash starts, so can unknowingly spread the infection for days. They remain contagious for another 4 days after the rash starts.

Over 90% of susceptible people who are exposed will get sick.

Are you willing to put your kids at risk by delaying the vaccine knowing the risks of natural infection?

Why is everyone so worked up about the measles showing up all around the country? Is it really a big deal? @pediatricskc

What vaccines are available?

There are two types of measles vaccines in the United States: MMR and MMRV.

There is no longer a separate measles vaccine.

We’ll go into these options next time. Stay tuned!

Update: Here’s Measles: All about the measles vaccines

Lawnmower safety

Lawn mowers send many kids and adults to the ER every year. Learn to use them safely with the tips below.

As the winter months (finally) end and the weather warms up, we need to get our lawns in order again. I haven’t written about lawn mower safety in a long time, but as I drive around my neighborhood I’m reminded just how many people don’t realize the dangers.

We need to respect lawn mowers and use them safely.

In 2016, more than 86,000 adults and 4,500 children in the U.S. were treated in emergency departments for injuries related to lawn mowers according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Riding mowers lead to the most injuries, but even walk behind mowers are dangerous.

People can suffer minor and serious cuts, burns, broken bones, eye injuries, loss of limbs, and death. A lawn mower can eject a rock, piece of metal, or wood up to 100 miles per hour, leading to injuries of people in the yard but not near the mower.

Lawn mowers send many kids and adults to the ER every year. Learn to use them safely. #lawnmowersafety @pediatricskc

Safety Tips

  • Only use a mower that has protection over hot and sharp parts. Never remove these protective coverings.
  • Teach kids to never touch a lawn mower. Many are burned by touching a hot mower, even when it is off.
  • Add fuel only to mowers when they are cool and off.
  • Never operate a mower when under the influence of alcohol or drugs that impair your level of alertness.
  • Never leave a running mower unattended. Turn it off before walking away.
  • Wear protective gloves, goggles, sturdy shoes, and long pants when you use lawn mowers. Never mow barefoot or in sandals.
  • No one under 16 years should ride on or operate a riding mower.
  • Riding mowers should have the reverse switch behind the driver, forcing the driver to look behind when placing the machine in reverse.
  • Push mowers should be used only by people over 12 years of age.
  • Push mowers should have a control that stops forward motion when the handle is released.
  • If children must be in the yard during mowing, they should remain at least 20 feet away at all times. Ideally children should not be allowed in the yard when the grass is being cut due to the possibility of flying debris.
  • Remove stones, toys, and debris from the lawn before mowing to prevent injuries from flying objects.
  • Mow across slopes with a push mower to avoid pulling the mower over your feet if you happen to slip.
  • Mow up and down slopes with a riding mower to prevent the mower from tipping over.
  • Do not cut wet grass.
  • Use hearing protection. Do not listen to music through your ear buds. The high volume required during mowing is harmful to your hearing.
  • Do not talk on your phone when mowing. It is a distraction that can lead to accidents.

For more information:

Lawn Mower Safety Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Plan for Vacation – especially if you’re going outside the US

A little planning and preparation can help everyone in your group stay healthy while traveling. Some preventative treatments take up to 6 months to complete, so talk to your doctor early!

When families are able to travel, it can be a wonderful time of exploration and bonding. Don’t let illness get in the way. Many locations have diseases that you don’t typically see in your home town. Take a little bit of time to learn what you need to do to prepare for your vacation. Insurance doesn’t usually cover travel medicine, so be sure to consider these extra costs when planning a trip.

Keep track of everything

It is a great idea to take pictures of everyone each morning in case someone gets separated from the group. Not only will you have a current picture for authorities to see what they look like, but you will also know what they were wearing at the time they were lost.

Take pictures of your passport, vaccine record, medicines, and other important items to use if the originals are lost. Store the images so you have access to them from any computer in addition to your phone in case your phone is lost.

Have everyone, including young children, carry a form of identification that includes emergency contact information.

Create a medical history form that includes the following information for every member of your travel group. Save a copy so you can easily find it on any computer in case of emergency.

  • your name, address, and phone number
  • emergency contact name(s) and phone number(s)
  • immunization record
  • your doctor’s name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
  • the name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including your policy number
  • a list of any known health problems or recent illnesses
  • a copy of current medications and supplements you are taking and pharmacy name and phone number
  • a list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
  • a prescription for glasses or contact lenses

Prepare everyone for local specs

Learn what the local healthcare options are if someone in your travel group gets sick or injured. For several tips, see this travel information from the CDC.

Find out how you can use your phone overseas. Be sure to bring a charger that will work with local electrical outlets.

If you’re traveling with young children, plan ahead for where they’ll sleep. Infants will need a safe place of their own with a firm surface. Everyone will need time to adjust to new time zones.

Vehicle safety risks vary around the world. Know local travel options and risks. Only use authorized forms of public transportation. For general information, see this International Road Safety page. Learn local laws prior to traveling.

If you’re going to be somewhere above 8000 feet above sea level, prepare for the change in altitude with these tips.

Be sure to talk with your teens about drug and alcohol safety prior to travel. Many countries have laws that vary significantly from the United States, and some teens will be tempted to take advantage of the legal nature of a drug or alcohol.

Remind everyone to stay in groups and to not venture out alone.

Dress appropriately for the area. Some clothing common in the United States is inappropriate in other parts of the world. Americans are also at risk of getting robbed, so do not wear things that will make others presume you are a good target.

Wear sunscreen! It doesn’t matter if you’re on the beach or on the slopes, you need to wear sunscreen every time you’re outside. Don’t ruin a vacation with a sunburn. For sunscreen tips, see Sun and Water Safety.

For more safety tips, see this helpful brochure.

Prevent bug bites

When you travel be sure to protect against bug bites! #travel #prevention #vacation #questforhealthkc

Mosquitos, ticks and other bugs not only cause itchy rashes but they can carry diseases. Using insect repellant properly can help to prevent getting bit.

Use insect repellent with at least 20% DEET to protect against mosquito and tick bites. Follow package directions and reapply as directed. Do not use combination bug sprays with sunscreen. They should be applied separately.

Wear long sleeves and pants. Consider treating your clothes with permethrin and tucking your pants into your socks. Sleep in areas that are screened against bugs.

Vaccines

Extra vaccines may be needed when you travel, especially in infants who are too young to get a measles vaccine on our usual schedule and adults who have not gotten vaccines that are now on the regular schedule.

Before you travel you can look at destination-specific advice on the CDC’s Destination page.

MMR

The news routinely reports outbreaks of measles these days. Many of the US outbreaks are related to an unvaccinated person returning from abroad. The MMR protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.

While our standard vaccine schedule does not recommend the MMR until 12 months of age, the vaccine can be used in infants as young as 6 months. It is considered safe to use in infants, but we don’t know when their immunity from their mother goes down. If the maternal immunity is still active the vaccine won’t work. This immunity typically falls between 6 and 12 months. After 12 months the vaccine is more likely to be effective, so when the risk is lower, it is recommended to wait until that age for the vaccine.

Between 6 and 12 months of age the MMR is recommended for infants considered high risk for being exposed to measles. This is because if their immunity has fallen, we don’t want them to be unprotected. International travel is considered to be high risk. If your baby’s maternal immunity is still high, the vaccine won’t provide protection, but he or she is still protected until that maternal immunity falls.

Because we don’t trust that the vaccine is effective before a year of age, babies who get an early MMR will still need two after their first birthday.

Talk to your baby’s pediatrician about getting the MMR if your child is over 6 months of age. Ideally it will be given at least 2 weeks prior to travel to give the body time to develop immunity.

Hepatitis

Both hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines are now on the routine schedule for children in the US, but many adults did not get these vaccines as children. These vaccines are recommended for travel to many locations. Verify if your family has had both hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines before you travel.

It is recommended that infants start hepatitis B vaccines at birth. The series is completed at 6-9 months of age. There are catch up schedules for those who haven’t completed the series on time.

Children do not get the hepatitis A vaccine until 12 months of age. If they have not yet started the series and they are over a year, they can start at any time. The booster is given 6-12 months later.

It takes at least 6 months to complete each of these series, so plan early!

Typhoid

Typhoid is not a vaccine routinely given in the US but it is recommended for travel to many parts of the world. There are two main types of typhoid vaccine, injectable and oral.

Children 2 years and older can get an injectable typhoid vaccine, ideally at least 2 weeks prior to travel. It is only one dose and lasts 2 years.

The oral vaccine is only for people 5 years and older. It is given in 4 doses over a week’s time and should be completed at least a week prior to travel. It must be given on an empty stomach (1 hour before eating and 2 hours after eating). Antibiotic treatment can make this vaccine ineffective, so discuss any current medicine you are taking with your doctor. The oral vaccine lasts 5 years.

Neither vaccine is 100 % effective so even immunized people must be careful what they eat and drink in areas of risk.

Meningitis

Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. Within this family, there are several serotypes, such as A, B, C, W, X, and Y. This bacteria causes serious illness and often death, even in the United States.

In the US there is a vaccine against meningitis types A, C, W, and Y recommended at 11 and 16 years of age but it can be given as young as 9 months of age. MenACWY-CRM is approved for children 2 months and older.

There is a vaccine for meningitis B prevention recommended for high risks groups in the US but is not specifically recommended for travel.

Meningitis vaccines should be given at least 7-10 days prior to potential exposure.

Travelers to the meningitis belt in Africa or the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia are considered high risk and should be vaccinated. Serogroup A predominates in the meningitis belt, although serogroups C, X, and W are also found. There is no vaccine against meningitis X, but if one gets the standard one that protects against ACWY, they will be protected against the majority of exposures. Boosters for people traveling to these areas are recommended every 5 years.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne infection that is found in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. There is no treatment for the illness, but there is a vaccine to help prevent infection. Some areas of the world require vaccination against yellow fever prior to admittance. Yellow fever vaccine is recommended for people over 9 months who are traveling to or living in areas with risk for YFV transmission in South America and Africa.

Most physician offices do not offer this vaccine. A special license is required to be able to provide it. Check with your local health department or a travel clinic in your area. This vaccine should be given at least 10 days prior to travel.

Influenza

Remember that influenza hits various parts of the world at different times of the year. The southern hemisphere tends to finish their flu season just as ours is starting. Check to see when it’s flu season and vaccinate as needed.

Medications for your trip

Aside from bringing your routine prescription medications and over the counter medicines in their original prescription container, there are some medications that are recommended for traveling to various parts of the world.

Malaria

Malaria transmission occurs in large areas of Africa, Latin America, parts of the Caribbean, Asia (including South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East), Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific. Depending on the level of risk (location, time of year, availability of air conditioning, etc) no specific interventions, mosquito avoidance measures only, or mosquito avoidance measures plus prescription medication for prophylaxis might be recommended.

Prevention medications might be recommended, depending on when and where you will be traveling. The medicines must begin before travel starts, continue during the duration of the travel, and continue once you return home. There is a lot of resistance to various drugs, so area resistance patterns will need to be evaluated before choosing a medication. Review the area-specific travel recommendations with your doctor.

Anti-diarrhea medicines

I am commonly asked to prescribe antibiotics to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. This is discouraged due to growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. It is best to prevent by avoiding local water, choosing foods wisely, using proper handwashing techniques, and considering bismuth subsalicylate or probiotic use.

Traveler’s diarrhea is often from bacteria, but it can also be from a viral source. Maintaining hydration with clean water with electrolytes is the most important treatment. Many cases of traveler’s diarrhea do not require antibiotics. See details of treatment recommendations in the Yellow Book.

After you return…

If you’ve been in an area of the world that has increased risk for tuberculosis (TB) or if you have suspected exposure to TB, testing for exposure is recommended.

Tuberculosis occurs worldwide, but travelers who go to most countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia are at greatest risk.

Travelers should avoid exposure to TB in crowded and enclosed environments. We should all avoid eating or drinking unpasteurized dairy products.

The vaccine against TB (bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine) is given at birth in most developing countries but has variable effectiveness and is not routinely recommended for use in the United States. Those who receive BCG vaccination must still follow all recommended TB infection control precautions and participate in post-travel testing for TB exposure.

It is recommended to test for exposure in healthy appearing people after travel. It is possible to have a positive test but no symptoms. This is called latent disease. One can remain in this stage for decades without any symptoms. If TB remains untreated in the body, it may activate at any time. Typically this happens when the body’s immune system is compromised, as with old age or another illness. Appropriately treating the TB before it causes active disease is beneficial for the long term.

Related posts

Traveling with kids

Traveling around the world

Motion sickness

7 Ways to keep kids from wandering and getting lost

Prevent Drowning

Drowning is one of the most common preventable causes of death in infants, kids, and teens. Learn how to protect against this tragedy!

Summer is on its way. We’ll soon be visiting lakes and pools to cool off from the heat. Unfortunately drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in children between ages 1 and 4. It continues to be a top cause of unintentional death among other age groups through the early adult years. Fortunately there are many precautions we can take to help lower the risk.

I wrote about Sun and Water Safety last summer, and want to remind everyone about the risks of drowning. I also wrote about Dry Drowning previously, but it seems that it isn’t really a thing – see the addendum in that post.

What are the risks?

About 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. Each year about 300-500 children under 5 years of age drown.

For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Even though they’re not fatal, they have significant consequences.

Over half of drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization for further evaluation and treatment. These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and a permanent loss of basic functioning.

What increases the risks?

  • Lack of Swimming Ability: Many adults and children report that they can’t swim. Swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children. See the link at the bottom for more on swim lessons.
  • Lack of Barriers: Barriers, such as pool fencing and alarm systems, prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area. A 4-sided fence reduces a child’s risk of drowning 83% compared to 3-sided fence with the house as the forth side. A great guide on barriers is from the US Consumer Protection Service.
  • Lack of Close Supervision: Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water. This includes bathtubs, swimming pools, pet water bowls, and buckets. This is why non-swimming times account for most drowning accidents.
  • Location: Most children 1-4 years of age drown in home swimming pools. More than half of the drownings among those 15 years and older occurred in natural water settings, such as lakes.
  • Failure to Wear Life Jackets: Most boating deaths are caused by drowning, with 88% of victims not wearing life jackets.
  • Alcohol Use: Among adolescents and adults alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation. 
  • Seizure Disorders: For persons with seizure disorders, drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death, with the bathtub as the site of highest drowning risk.

How can you recognize drowning?

Movies show people splashing around and yelling for help as they drown.

Don’t let that fool you. Movies are not reality.

Signs of drowning:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
  • Trying to roll over on the back

Most drowning victims are silent. They don’t splash to get your attention. Watch this video from Inside Edition that captures several drowning victims:

Assign a water watcher to keep an eye on young children in water. #drowning @pediatricskc

Teach water safety

Learn how to swim and teach your children to swim as well. If your child(ren) are good swimmers, be sure to still have rules about pool use and limit pool access. Even strong swimmers can drown. See the link in the resources below for infomation on swim lessons.

No one should swim alone. If your children are not able to follow that rule, the pool should not be accessible to them. Gates and alarm systems can be used to limit access to home pools and hot tubs.

Not all teens are safe swimmers, but they don’t often fess up to their friends. They are also at risk of making impulsive decisions to drink alcohol near water, forego their life vest on a boat, jump off a cliff into water, or other things that could put them at risk. Talk to your teens about safety – in and out of the water! Encourage teens to learn CPR.

Water safety in easy-to-see graphic form

From https://twitter.com/DrEmMontgomery/status/1109249128712810497

The @AmerAcadPeds updated their policy statement on #drowning prevention this week. #watersafety pic.twitter.com/8B57ZprmvJ— Emily Montgomery, MD (@DrEmMontgomery) March 23, 2019

Making home water safer

All pools should have a 4 foot fence around all sides. This includes below-ground pools as well as portable pools. It is much less safe to use the house as one of the borders, since young children can escape out the door and into the pool, but if you must use your home, take precautions. Install an alarm system to alert you if the door to the pool area is opened. Use a pool or spa cover when the pool or spa is not in use.

A short word on portable pools. They can include inexpensive blow up pools and larger pools. Portable pools present a real danger to young children because they are often not seen as a threat. Portable pools account for 10% of the total drowning deaths for children younger than 15 . They should be drained, covered, or fenced to protect children. Don’t leave them in the yard unattended.

Ask neighbors to put a proper barrier around their pools or hot tubs.

Ensure any pool or hot tub (spa) you use has anti-entrapment safety drain covers.

Have life saving equipment such as life rings, floats or a reaching pole available and easily accessible.

If you have a home pool, be sure that it's protected from your kids. @pediatricskc
From https://downloads.aap.org/DOPA/Drowning-Prevention/pool_safety_english.pdf

It’s not just pools that are risks…

Bowls and buckets

Keep pet water bowls out of reach of young children.

Drain any buckets of water after they’re used.

Toilet dangers

Close bathroom doors and toilet lids to keep young ones from playing in the water.

Bath time

Monitor young kids and those with seizure risks in the bath the entire time. Do not leave the room even for a few moments.

Don’t read or check your phone when you’re watching kids in the tub, just like at the pool.

Drain the bath tub before young kids even get out. This not only helps your kids not climb back in (a common reason to need stitches when kids slip trying to climb in), but it also prevents them from drowning in left over water.

For more:

Swim Lessons: When to start and what parents should know

Infant water safety: protect your new baby from drowning

Drowning Prevention for Curious Toddlers: What Parents Need to Know

Water safety: Tips for parents of young children

Water safety for teens

Teen drowning can be prevented with safety measures: Teens don’t always follow the rules. Their impulsivity and thrill seeking behaviors put them in a unique risk for dangers.

For pool barrier guidelines and suggestions, see the Safety Barrier Guidelines for Residential Pools Preventing Child Drownings from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. This is important for all pools and hot tubs, including portable pools.

Pool Dangers and Drowning Prevention – When It’s Not Swimming Time: Remember to keep all pools, tubs, and buckets of water secure at all times.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS)

Momo. Hoax or not, scary things happen online.

It’s not just Momo… Even if she started as a hoax, we DO need to protect our kids online.

The news is full of stories about Momo and other scary things our kids are exposed to online. Many stories say this is a hoax. YouTube has said this would be against their rules. It doesn’t really matter if this started as a hoax or if it’s against the rules. The fact is that our kids are exposed to things online.

Our kids do see inappropriate things

I recently saw a preschool aged child for a well visit. During the visit it came up that the child had been exposed to Momo online. When the mother learned that the child saw scary Momo videos, she came up with a great plan. They took images of Momo and transformed her into funny faces, much like what I did for the image above.

I think this mother’s idea is great. She took a character that was scary to her child and made it funny. She used the opportunity to talk to her child. It became a great teaching moment.

Our kids can never “un-see” what they’ve seen, but we can help them to not view it as so scary. If you are unable to do this alone, talk to your pediatrician or a therapist.

We know that traumas impact a child’s development. They can develop significant anxieties and suffer if things are not quickly and adequately addressed.

When things happen we need to find ways to help our kids process them. If your child’s mood or behavior suddenly changes, it is quite possible that they have experienced a traumatic event of some sort. If they won’t talk to you, seek professional help.

What can we do to prevent online exposures?

We can’t stop all exposures, but we can do many things to help protect our kids. This includes monitoring software, anti-virus software, and teaching our kids how to behave responsibly and safely.

Increasing responsibility

Our kids will be online, whether it’s at home or at school or at a friend’s house. They are growing up with the world at their fingertips through the internet, so we must teach them to use it wisely.

Like in other benefits and responsibilities of growing up, our kids should have fewer limits and less monitoring as they show maturity. We cannot expect them to be responsible online at 18 years of age if they never practice with supervision along the way.

Give your kids age-appropriate allowances for games, videos, and other online experiences. I love to use Common Sense Media to learn about movies, games, and other media.

Set up parental controls.

Research parental control software. It’s easy to search “parental control apps” or “parental control software reviews” to find the pros and cons to various brands.

One of my favorite sites that exposes safety concerns has a great post for parents: 5 tips for setting up your child’s device for safety from a tech mom.

Learn to safely monitor phones and specific apps.

Choosing the best for your family is not easy, but read several reviews to find what is best for your family’s needs.

Adult supervision and guidance

If our kids are playing outside, they will have close supervision when they’re young, less as they get older.

Online use should be no different.

Your 3-4 year old should not go to the park alone and they shouldn’t go online alone. If they are online, project the screen to the television so you can watch along or sit with them and play along with them. They should not be online when you are busy doing something else. It is not a safe babysitter.

As kids get older and can understand how to navigate the internet more safely, they can have less and less direct supervision. This does not mean they can have a free for all. Parents can still help them choose age-appropriate sites and have software to keep blocked sites from being accessible.

You can’t just avoid online use

Several parents over the years have tried to end the conversation when I bring up social media safety by saying, “we don’t allow any of that.”

It is not sufficient to simply not allow any social media. Our kids and teens will come across it, whether it’s their own account or a friends.

What things did you do as a teen that your parent didn’t know about? It’s even easier for kids to hide social media accounts than it is for them to do many of the things we used to do as kids.

As kids grow

Talk to older kids and teens about why pornography sites are harmful.

Have discussions about oversharing. Predators look for ways to identify where kids hang out. Kids shouldn’t give a team name or mention that their soccer game is tomorrow morning at 9. That innocent information can help a predator find them. Even photos with identifying information, like a school shirt or team jersey, can be risky if shared publicly.

Kids sometimes get tricked into sharing photos that are inappropriate. This includes pornographic images as well as snapshots identifying where to find them.

Talk about their digital footprint. Schools and employers will look at your child’s online history. It needs to be positive and what they post today will be there forever.

Teach kids basic right and wrong

We cannot protect our kids from everything, but we can teach them to be good decision makers.

Use real life examples and daily experiences to help your kids learn to make safe choices. Let them accept more responsibility and make more choices as they get older. Allow them to make the wrong choice sometimes. They’ll learn from these little mistakes much more than they would if you refuse to let them do that little mistake. This helps to prepare them to make the right choice with the riskier options as they grow.

For example, if your middle school child wants to stay up late to watch a movie but you know he has an early soccer game, discuss the situation with him. Let him make up his own mind in the end – without being judgmental. If he struggles getting out of bed and disappoints his teammates because he’s too tired, is that really the worst thing in the world? I bet the next week he won’t beg to stay up late so much. Just don’t play the “I told you so” game or give attitude about it. That will make him mad at you.

Let kids learn from their own mistakes without discussion or lecture. Kids learn from things like this if we let them. Trust me, there are lots of opportunities for them to learn to make safe, responsible choices as they grow.

In the end, if our kids want to find an inappropriate site or do something they’re not supposed to do, they will. If they use good judgement and make safe choices in other aspects of life, they are more likely to do so online too.

Be vigilant

It’s not just Momo… Even if she started as a hoax, we DO need to talk to our kids about risks online.

We need to keep up with online challenges and apps.

Follow your kids on their social sites. Talk about what sites they can and cannot use, but remember that it is easy for them to set up hidden accounts. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your kids and let them make their own choices as they grow. If you don’t allow options and never let them fail, they will not learn. The more you restrict them, the more they’ll hide from you.

Monitor for new apps. Learn how kids hide them. If your child has an iphone, they can be hiding them in these ways.

Keep track of the time your child spends online. Go to your app store and search “time on phone tracker” or check out these popular apps that track time:

For more:

In addition to the many links above, these articles are highly recommended:

A conversation about ADHD

Listen in as I talk about ADHD. I even throw in several stories from my own experiences in parenting a child with ADHD.

I was recently interviewed about parenting a child with ADHD. I encourage parents of kids with ADHD to listen.

As a pediatrician I have the benefit of seeing many families affected by ADHD, and that has helped me to be a better parent. It has also given me support when things don’t go well because I know I’m not alone.

If you’re feeling frustrated with parenting, especially when it’s related to those issues common to kids with ADHD, I encourage you to listen.

I hope that you will feel like you’re not in this alone. 

Topics discussed:

  • What is ADHD?
  • How is ADHD diagnosed?
  • Co-existing conditions
  • Things that are mistaken as ADHD
  • Ways to manage symptoms other than medicine
  • How symptoms of ADHD change over time
  • And more!

Listen:

For More Information:

Developmental Age in ADHD

Supplements for ADHD

Medications for ADHD: Starting out and titrating

Remembering Medications

Medications: Types and side effects

Alternative Treatments for ADHD

Genetics of ADHD

What does brain imaging tell us about ADHD?

Brain function 101: Why medicines help ADHD

Practical at home tips for illnesses

When your family gets sick, what can you do before running to the ER or clinic?

When cold and flu season is in full gear, it’s helpful to know common things that can help us prevent and treat whatever is in town. Many of the viruses that run around each season don’t have specific treatments, but there are things that we can do at home to treat symptoms and keep people more comfortable. There are also things we can all do to prevent the spread to other family members or back into our community.

What can be done to feel better?

Remember that nothing can be done to treat most viruses. Our body’s immune system will take care of that, but we can do things that help us feel better during the illness.

It’s hard to make them better, but we can make them feel better

Most cough and colds last several weeks. Vomiting and diarrhea can last a couple weeks as well.

During the cold and flu season, it can seem like kids are sick every day for months because they catch one on top of the other. Some of these days they might simply have a runny nose, and those days can last most of the year in young kids.

It’s when they seem uncomfortable or distressed that we need to do more. Treat the symptoms that bother them.

Identify the symptoms that are concerning, such as difficulty breathing or dehydration, and seek treatment at your doctor’s office for those.

What about fever?

Notice I did not list fever as one of those symptoms.

Doctors don’t do anything special for fever in vaccinated children over 2 months of age.

Fever can accompany other symptoms that may be concerning, but it in itself is not the concern unless it is a newborn, unvaccinated child, or one with a chronic condition that you’ve been warned has increased risks.

Comfort measures

Pain control with acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be helpful. Follow the package directions for weight. Dosing for kids under 2 years of age can be found on my office website or you can ask your physician.

Remember the goal is not to bring temperatures to normal, but to keep kids comfortable. If they’re in pain from sinus pressure, a headache, sore throat, body aches, or earaches, it is okay to give a pain reliever even with a normal temperature.

Get the mucus out

Suction your infant’s nose before feeding and before putting him down to sleep. This helps clear the mucus from the airway and makes breathing easier. Encourage nose blowing for those old enough to know how to blow.

Use saline to irrigate the nose. They sell drops, sprays, and nasal wash systems to be used, depending on age and personal preference. 

Hydrate

Encourage your family members over 6 months of age to drink more water than normal when sick. Kids often won’t eat well when they’re sick. That’s okay. It is important that they drink well though so they can stay hydrated.

Young infants should not drink water, but you can encourage more of their milk or formula when they have cough and colds.

If your child has vomiting or diarrhea, avoid cow’s milk products. These often lead to more vomiting. Breast milk can be offered in small amounts frequently to infants who are breastfeeding. Electrolyte solutions (with sugars and salts) can be given to infants and children for hydration.

Clean air

DO NOT let anyone smoke around your child or in your home. Smoke can make the wheezing and coughing worse, even if done in a separate room in the home.

Smoke residue on hair and clothing can cause irritation to your child’s airways. I can usually identify smokers or people who spend time with smokers when they’re in my clinic. (Thankfully that isn’t often.) It isn’t unusual for me to start coughing when they’re in a clinic room with me. If you must smoke, go outside and wear a jacket that can be removed to minimize what is on your shirt when you go inside and hold your baby.

I’ve even started coughing when around someone who was vaping. I know people claim that the vapor is safe around others, but my lungs don’t like it. Keep it away from your kids. Talk to your kids about the risks of vaping so they don’t start the habit.

Rest

Encourage those who are sick to get extra rest. We often sleep poorly at night and need daytime naps to get enough sleep when we’re sick. 

Dry air

A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier can help your child breathe easier. Change the water every day. Clean the machine per the manufacturer recommendations. 

Infection control

It just isn’t possible to keep kids from being contagious when they have a virus. They love to touch everything and share germs, so keep them home until they’re well enough to return to normal daily activities.

Stay home!

Our health department now recommends that everyone with influenza stays home for 7 days following the start of symptoms.

How long should you stay home? It varies by illness. www.questforhealthkc.com

You can return to work, school, and activities with other illnesses when the fever is gone (without using fever reducers) for 24 hours, there’s no vomiting or diarrhea, and you’re generally feeling well enough to return. If not, stay home and rest or visit your doctor.

Cover the cough!

Cover your cough properly - don't use your hands! www.questforhealthkc.com

Teach kids to sneeze and cough into their elbow or a tissue. Wash hands after handling tissues. 

Wash, wash, wash

Good handwashing can help decrease the spread of viruses.

Wash hands often. If soap and water isn’t available, use hand sanitizer. The more things you touch, the more often you should wash.

Teach kids to wash properly. Have them rub soap on their hands for 15 – 20 seconds- be sure they scrub palms, backs of hands, fingers, spaces between the fingers and even under the fingernails. 

Wash

  • Before preparing food
  • After toileting or changing a diaper
  • When they’re obviously soiled
  • Before eating
  • After sneezing or coughing into hands or wiping nose
  • Before and after touching eyes
  • When taking care of a wound wash your hands before and after washing and treating the wound
  • Often when taking care of someone who is sick
  • After touching trash or soiled objects

Consider having separate towels for each family member in your bathrooms to decrease the spread of germs when they wipe their mouth after brushing their teeth.

Hand sanitizer is a good option when washing isn’t available, but it is not helpful against some germs, so handwashing is preferred.

Use lotion as needed to keep your skin moisturized. Dry skin damages the barrier that helps prevent germs from getting into our bodies.

Germs can live on objects and surfaces for 2 or 3 hours – sometimes longer. Clean your child’s toys often with soap and water.

Don’t touch your face. Eyes, ears, and noses are the doors into our body.

Avoid handshakes and other hand to hand contact. Try a fist bump or wave!

Help prevent the spread of germs. Don't shake hands. Offer a fist bump or wave. #infectionpreventiontip

Avoid taking young children to large groups of people during the cold and flu season, especially if people are showing signs of illness.

Vaccinate.

We can help prevent many of the most serious illnesses by staying up to date on our vaccines.

Everyone over 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine. There are very few contraindications to a flu vaccine and many benefits. Really.

And finally… avoid kisses that spread illness!

For more:

Fever Is

When is a fever too high

Tamiflu

Evolution of illness

Cough Medicine: which one’s best?

Cough sounds

How long will a cough or cold last?

RSV has a bad rap… for good reason

Strep throat: new school guidelines

Sore throat: strep vs viral

How to use nose sprays correctly

Improper use of antibiotics

Why wait to see your usual doctor?

Developmental Age in ADHD

I’ve been asked what the single best parenting tip I’ve gotten as the parent of a child with ADHD is. After a lot of consideration, I’ve decided that it involves setting expectations. When we re-frame things that are appropriate for their developmental age, it alleviates so many fights and frustrations. These expectations can vary if they’re on medication at the time, how much sleep they’ve had, and more.

What is developmental age?

Kids with ADHD have a delay in brain development that affects the ways they organize, process, and act upon information.

Chronologic age

We typically measure a child’s age by how long it’s been since they were born. This is their chronologic age.

We assume that kids will be able to understand more complex ideas and master new tasks as they get older. There are certain milestones that are associated with various ages, such as a social smile by 2 months or walking by 15 months of age.

Developmental age

Your pediatrician will ask developmental questions at routine well visits to be sure your baby is on track.

These questions help us to identify if your child is developing at a normal rate or if there is a delay. At some ages there are specific standardized developmental screening tools to be administered.

As long as a child meets expectations, their developmental age and chronological age match. If they are delayed, we can give a developmental age to help identify their stage of development.

We know that ADHD is one cause of delay of areas of the brain that are important in executive functioning. At this time there are no standard screening tool recommended at all well visits to assess this development. It is important to bring up any concerns from home or school with your physician.

What are executive functioning skills?

Executive functions are the things we use to help us use and act upon information.

Understood is a great resource for many things related to learning, attention, and behavior. They have a great page about what executive functioning problems look like at different ages – from preschool to high school.

But my child’s smart, not delayed!

Being delayed in executive functioning areas of the brain is not the same as being academically delayed or having a low IQ. Parts of our brains grow at different rates.

Even your child that excels in certain areas can be delayed in others.

A child who can do math several grades ahead of classmates might not be able to remember something as simple as turning the homework in the next day.

Another child who reads grade levels ahead might not be able understand why a certain behavior is considered undesirable.

A child who is gifted in the arts can struggle significantly remembering all the things that must happen to get ready to leave the house in the morning on time.

It’s easy to get angry at kids for having missing assignments, when they forget to brush their teeth, or when they’re always running late. It can be difficult to help kids understand why they cannot blurt out answers or tell others what to do or how to do it.

Negative feedback leads to increasing problems

Unfortunately, kids with ADHD often hear negative feedback when they fail to do what’s expected, which can lead to rejection sensitivity.

Kids often develop unproductive ways to buffer the negativity that follows their failures. They can act out, become the “class clown,” decide to stop trying because of the fear of failure, and more.

It is now recognized that kids with ADHD have a delay in brain development that affects the ways they organize, process, and act upon information. #executivefunction #adhd #adhdkcteen

Setting expectations

I’m asked all the time how to set expectations with kids, especially those with ADHD.

It’s understandably difficult to parent when your child, who otherwise looks and acts like kids of the same age, doesn’t have the same abilities in areas of focus, organizing, prioritizing, completing tasks, and self care issues.

Visible differences are easy to spot

When kids look different due to a genetic or physical condition, it’s easy to see what accommodations are needed.

If a child has an obvious trait that makes it difficult to do a task, we modify our expectations. A wheelchair bound child would never be expected to run upstairs to grab something.

Invisible differences still exist

For those who look “normal” but are neurodevelopmentally different, it’s easy to fall into the trap of setting an expectation based on the typical expectation for their age, not their level of development.

A child who has problems with working memory might also struggle to run upstairs to grab something. It’s not a form of defiance when they go upstairs and forget what they’re supposed to be getting or when they don’t return because they get distracted by something else.

Many kids are simply not there yet.

They can’t act their age because that part of their brain is not at that stage.

Most will get there, but it takes them longer.

Set appropriate expectations, and when they struggle, show patience and help them learn. This is much more effective than setting the bar too high, resulting in punishments and anger.

Delays of executive functioning

Dr. Richard Barkley has shown that kids tend to develop executive functioning skills about 30% slower than neurotypical peers. This adds up to about 3-5 years at most ages.

This might mean that your 12 year old might struggle doing what another 12 year old has already mastered. They might only be able to handle things expected of an 8 year old.

Set expectations according to skills, not age

The single tip that helps de-stress parenting more than any other that I’ve heard is to adjust expectations by skill.

Chronologic age is less important when deciding what a child is capable of and what they’re ready to learn.

this doesn’t mean letting them get by with anything…

As a child grows, you will watch their successes and failures.

You learn what they can and cannot handle. Help them with the things they cannot do while letting them do as much as they can.

SEt expectations and supports

One child can be expected to get dressed and brush teeth without reminders.

Another child of the same age will need a chart listing all the routine things that need to be done.

And yet another child of the same age may need reminders to look at the chart.

All of these same age kids can be smart and have good intentions, but they need different levels of reminders.

Recommended Video

I recommend this video to parents often. It shows very clearly what it means to parent a child who is delayed in executive functioning. Parents of kids with ADHD will most likely identify with it.

RSV has a bad rap, for good reason

Bronchiolitis (often called RSV) is an infection of the respiratory tract that leads to wheezing and difficulty breathing. Learn why it’s scary to many parents and what you can do about it.

Bronchiolitis is an infection of the respiratory tract that leads to wheezing and difficulty breathing, most often in infants and children under 2 years of age. It’s often called simply “RSV.” While it’s often caused by a virus called Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), it’s not always. Let’s talk about what it is and what we can do about it.

Symptoms of bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis often starts off just like a common cold, with a runny nose or congestion. In older children and adults it progresses just like a cold. Because it is.

In infants and young children symptoms can progress to make them more significantly sick. Day 3-5 of illness often is the worst.

Symptoms include (but not everyone has all):

  • Rapid heavy breathing (more than 60 breaths per minute – always count for a full minute in babies because they can pant or hold their breath, which throws the count off)
  • Wheezing (tight breathing with a whistling sound)
  • Retractions (the skin between ribs suck in during inspiration)
  • Nasal flaring (where the nostrils widen with breathing)
  • Belly breathing (the abdomen moves up and down more than usual)
  • Fever
  • Cough (which can occasionally cause vomiting)
  • Lots of mucus from the nose and mouth (lots!)
  • Decreased appetite (which can lead to dehydration, so offer frequent liquid feedings)

If you’re wondering what type of cough your child has, check out The sounds of coughing.

Causes of bronchiolitis

Most cases of bronchiolitis are due to viruses.

RSV is a common cause, which is why the condition is often simply called RSV. Most of us have had RSV by the time we’re 3 years old. It doesn’t always cause the symptoms of bronchiolitis. Sometimes it just looks like a common cold, especially in older kids and adults. This is why it’s really important to protect young infants around people who are just a little sick.

Bronchiolitis can be caused by many of the viruses that cause upper respiratory tract infections. Rhinovirus, metapneumovirus, adenovirus, influenza, parainfluenza, and coronavirus are some of the other culprits.

Who’s at risk?

Symptoms tend to be worst in babies who are higher risk. This includes infants who were born prematurely, those who have certain heart defects, the very young, or those with other chronic conditions.

Infants are more at risk of having simple cold viruses cause the more severe symptoms of bronchiolitis. Their narrow airways contribute to this because they become plugged with mucus more easily than larger airways.

All viral illnesses are more common among infants who are in daycare or around lots of people. The more people, the more likely they’ll be exposed to a person sharing germs. Infants also put their hands and toys in their mouth often, which helps them get germs into their body.

Those who are around cigarette smoke are also more at risk because of the chronic airway irritation caused by smoke. Even babies who are around people who smoke prior to being with the child can get third hand smoke exposure from hair and clothing.

Prevention

Standard infection control protocols can help avoid spread.

Wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. Teach kids to get all parts of their hands clean. Wash hands even when you’re not feeling sick… we share germs before we know we have them and we need to protect ourselves from catching new ones!

Avoid being around people who are sick and when you’re sick, stay home! If you’re the one who’s sick, check out Help! I’m sick and have a baby at home.

Have separate towels (or disposable towels) in the bathroom. After brushing your teeth, you don’t want to wipe on a towel that was used by someone who’s brewing germs!

Don’t kiss babies on their face, hands, or feet. The top of the head is best!

Stop the spread of germs! Don't kiss the face!

Avoid cigarette smoke – even second hand and third hand smoke (on surfaces) can cause airway irritation. This irritation makes it harder to fend off germs, which leads to more infections.

Germs can live on surfaces and objects for 2 or 3 hours or longer. It’s a good idea not to share toys because babies put them in their mouth all the time. Clean your child’s toys often with soap and water.

Cover coughs and sneezes properly.

Coughs spread germs. Cover!

Testing

Virus testing

There are tests that can be done on mucus from the nose to see which virus is the culprit, but they aren’t usually required.

Knowing if it’s RSV or another virus doesn’t make the symptoms change. We treat symptoms.

Testing can be used for infection control measures when babies are admitted to the hospital, but aren’t always necessary.

Tests are expensive, and unless they change something we’ll do, they aren’t generally recommended. Why waste your money? (Even if you think insurance will cover it, the money comes from somewhere… you’ll pay more in premiums if you spend more.)

Oxygen levels

It is common to check oxygen levels when kids (and adults) are sick. Pulse oximeters are an inexpensive tool to help us assess how well a person is compensating when having trouble breathing.

Chest x-ray

Most infants and children with bronchiolitis do not need a chest x-ray, but they are sometimes used to assess for pneumonia or foreign bodies (such as a swallowed coin) that can cause wheezing.

Blood work

Blood tests are not usually needed to diagnose or treat bronchiolitis but they can help to identify if there’s a need for antibiotics due to a bacterial infection. Sometimes we check blood if we’re worried about dehydration.

Treatments

The virus must run its course and symptoms can last several weeks, so what can you do to help ease symptoms?

Home treatments

Comfort measures

You can use fever reducers if your baby is uncomfortable. These include acetaminophen if your baby is over 2-3 months and ibuprofen or acetaminophen if your baby is over 6 months. I don’t recommend fever reducers before babies get their 2 month vaccines because you can mask symptoms of serious disease. See your physician if your unimmunized child has a fever!

Remember that a fever is the body’s immune system at work, so your goal is comfort, not getting rid of the fever.

More on how to recognize if a fever is too high and the scary facts of fever.

Suck out the snot!

Babies with bronchiolitis often seem as if their nose is a faucet. All that mucus interferes with breathing and feeding. They can’t blow their nose, but you can suck it out!

I’m not a fan of bulb syringes as a nasal aspirator. I find that they have too narrow of a tip to get an effective seal in the nostril until you force it up so far that it causes trauma in the nose. They also run out of suction power before the mucus is all out, which means you must break the seal, empty it out, and resume. This gives your child a chance to suck back some of the mucus you brought forward. Not to mention some of the really gross photos I’ve seen of what grows inside those things!

Here’s a review of various nasal aspirator types and brands. I like the review in general and have no ties to it. She does link to sales, but you can buy from your favorite retailer.

Use one of the aspirators to suction your infant’s nose as they need it. It’s especially helpful before feeding and before they go to sleep, but think of how often you blow your nose when you’re sick. It can be helpful quite often!

Use saline

Saline can help thin out mucus and decrease the swelling of nasal tissues.

It can be used with or without sucking afterward. I talk a bit more about the benefits of saline in How to use nose sprays correctly.

Elevate the head

Raise the head of the bed to help with drainage of mucus. Don’t put your infant on a pillow because that can obstruct breathing. Raise the head of the bed by putting something solid under the legs of the bed or roll a blanket or towel and place it under the mattress at the head of the bed.

I remember many nights of sitting up holding my children when they were sick so they could be upright and sleep. That doesn’t mean I slept well, but that’s what moms do sometimes. You do need to be careful with this – babies can be dropped if a parent falls asleep holding them.

Fluids

Encourage your child to drink fluids in small amounts. This can be breast milk or formula, or water for older infants and children.

Many babies tire out drinking, so they need to drink more frequently than normal to get in a decent volume.

If your baby isn’t drinking well and looks dehydrated, talk to your physician.

Humidify the air

A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier can help your child breathe easier.

Change the water every day.

Clean the machine per the manufacturer recommendations to prevent it being a source of germs.

Things to avoid

Never use menthol products around infants. They have been shown to increase mucus production and worsen symptoms, especially in children under 2 years.

Don’t demand antibiotics. It cannot be cured with antibiotics. No viral illness can.

Decongestants thicken mucus and can lead to more difficulty breathing, sleep disturbances and irritability.

Hospital treatments

Historically we have tried medical treatments when infants present with bronchiolitis. These include breathing treatments with bronchodilators, steroids, and more.

A single treatment with a bronchodilator can be used to see if there’s response to decrease wheezing, but should not be continued if there’s no benefit.

Steroids have not been shown to help unless there’s a history of asthma.

Oxygen is a standard treatment that can help if the oxygen level is low or to ease the work of breathing.

Intravenous (iv) fluids are often required if hydration from feedings is not successful.

Suctioning is a primary treatment in the hospital setting, much like at home.

When should kids be seen?

Infants and children should be seen relatively quickly if the following criteria are met:

  • Infants under 2 months of age should be assessed by a physician. They often require hospitalization because of the risk of apnea. Apnea is when they stop breathing and is a risk of very young infants with bronchiolitis.
  • Respiratory rate over 60 breaths/minute consistently. It’s common to breathe faster with a fever, so if you can bring it down and their breathing is less labored, that’s okay. They also temporarily breathe faster after eating or crying. Again, if it slows within a few minutes, that’s okay.
  • Dehydration. Signs of dehydration include no tears, thick/pasty or no saliva, or fewer than 3 wet diapers in 24 hours.
  • The color of the child’s lips or skin looks blue.
  • The infant looks uncomfortable or is inconsolable.
  • Infants under 3 months (or an under-vaccinated child) with a temperature over 100.4F.

If your child simply isn’t getting better after several days or if earache develops, make an appointment during regular office hours.