New Car Safety Guidelines 2018

The #1 killer of our children over 4 years of age is vehicle crashes. New car safety guidelines are based on safety data to keep our kids safe.

The AAP recently released new car safety guidelines for kids. The number one killer of our children over 4 years of age is vehicle crashes. These new guidelines are based on safety data and research about how to keep our kids safe. They are not meant to keep kids happy. They will be hard to enforce at the beginning, but it’s worth it to keep our kids alive! Once kids know this is not negotiable, the fighting will decrease. Spread the word to your friends with kids so yours don’t feel like they’re the only ones who must stay in a safety seat. Plus you might save a life!

A big thank you to Molly Blair for the colorful photos!

General car safety tips

Car seat choice and maintenance

  • The best seat is not necessarily the most expensive. Choose a seat that fits your child and your car.
  • Car seats expire. Write when your seats are close to expiring on your calendar.
  • You should not buy a used car seat from anyone you don’t know. It is not possible to verify that it hasn’t been in an accident in this situation.
  • Register your car seat so you will be notified in case of recalls.
  • If you’re in an accident, your car seats may need to be replaced. Insurance may cover this cost.
  • Do not remove the stickers that provide important information, such as the height and weight limits of the seat.
  • Always review the size minimum and maximums of your car seat. Make it a habit to check the seat’s limitations after each well visit check to be sure your child’s height and weight still fit in the seat as it is being used.

Car seat use and mis-use

  • Bring your child and the car seat to a certified car seat installer with each change in seat and change in vehicle.
  • The most common mistake other than installing a seat improperly is to move a child to the next seat too quickly. Keep your child in the seat until they meet the height or weight limit. Each transition (from rear-facing to forward-facing, forward-facing to booster, and booster to lap/shoulder belt) lowers the child’s protection.
  • Do not use attachments, such as a head roll, in a seat unless it was tested and sold with your seat.
  • Keep bulky clothing and padding out of the car seat. Layer clothing if it’s cold. 
  • Rear facing allows the head and spine to be protected in case of a crash. It is the safest way to travel. The head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car safety seat. They all move together, with little relative movement between body parts.
  • When children ride forward-facing, their bodies are restrained by the harness straps, but their heads can be thrown forward in an accident. This can lead to more spine and head injuries.
Bulky clothes and winter coats are not for use in car seats!
Molly Blair makes a lot of great images for her mother, Dr. Kim Burlingham, and has given me permission to share. 

Potential problems with following the guidelines

Motion sickness

If your child suffers from motion sickness (car sickness) when rear facing, talk to your pediatrician.

Resistance

Kids will resist many things, including properly buckling up. It is worth it to insist that they’re safe. Try various parenting strategies.

Kids like choices, so offer choices about climbing in or getting put in the seat or if they want to help do the buckle. The choice is never whether or not to ride safely. Find acceptable choices that end with them properly buckled. There are more ideas in 5 Tricks to Get an Uncooperative Toddler Into Their Car Seat.

Older kids can learn about why they need this level of safety seat to remain safe. I know my kids are both shorter than classmates, so it was a regular discussion in my house. They always ended up agreeing that it was necessary when we looked at age-appropriate crash pictures and safety data. (Do an online search to preview sites without your kids so they aren’t exposed to more than they can handle.) I ask kids in my office all the time if I should ride a motorcycle without a helmet – it’s legal in my state. They all say “no” and then seem to comprehend that just because it’s legal doesn’t make it safe.

Summary of 2018 car safety guidelines

Infants through preschool years

Infants should always remain rear facing. Both rear-facing only seats and convertible seats can serve this purpose.

Infants should remain rear facing until they outgrow the limits of their car seat.

Rear-facing only seats

Rear-facing only seats are convenient because they can be snapped in and out of bases. This allows various drivers to have bases installed in their vehicle and the seat can be used in multiple vehicles.

Rear-facing only seats tend to have lesser weight and height allowances, but as infants become toddlers they do not need a carrying seat. Not to mention the safety issues with carrying a heavy kid in a heavy seat – we don’t need parents to hurt themselves!

Although these infant rear-facing carrying seats can be used to carry infants in and out of buildings to the vehicle, it is not recommended to use them long term outside of the vehicle. They are not approved for overnight sleeping.

Convertible seats

Convertible seats are able to be used rear facing until a child outgrows the weight or height maximum.

The minimum weight recommended to turn forward facing is now 40 pounds unless the seat has a lower maximum for rear facing.

This means most toddlers and preschoolers should be staying rear facing.

When kids turn forward in the car, they should stay in their harness.
 When kids turn forward in the car, they should stay in their harness.

School aged kids

Convertible seats

Convertible seats will accommodate children rear facing until they are 40-90 pounds.

Keep ’em rear facing longer!

The earliest it is now recommended to turn kids forward facing is 40 pounds. I know kids will fight this, but it’s worth it based on the safety studies.

This means that kids who are school aged might still fit best rear facing.

Rear facing is the safest way to travel, and remember that the #1 killer of our kids over 4 years is automobile crashes. Let’s change that and keep kids rear facing longer.

When kids are over the rear-facing maximum of their seat, turn them around, but leave the harness on. There’s a reason race car drivers use a harness and not just a lap and shoulder belt. Harnesses are safer! Use it until your child outgrows the limits of the seat.

Race car drivers still use a harness seatbelt - your kids should use one too until they're big enough to fit without.
 Race car drivers still use a harness seatbelt – your kids should use one too until they’re big enough to fit without.

Booster seats

Booster seats help keep the lap and shoulder belt positioned properly until a child is tall enough and old enough to not require it. It is generally around 4 foot 9 inches that kids are big enough to sit in most vehicles without a booster. Most kids are not this tall until 10-12 years of age, even though many state laws allow much younger kids to sit without a booster.

Age is not the main factor in deciding when a child should move out of  a booster. Use the 5 point test to see if your child fits properly in the vehicle. I always say it’s the size of the child as well as the size of the vehicle’s seat that matters.

Don't let kids move out of the booster seat too soon! Age doesn't matter as much as fit.
 Don’t let kids move out of the booster seat too soon! Age doesn’t matter as much as fit.

Seat belt alone

When kids fit properly in the vehicle’s seat without a booster seat, they still should sit properly.

If your child cannot sit upright in the seat, a booster is still recommended to keep the belt properly positioned.

No one should slide their hips away from the back of the seat to slouch in the seat. This allows the seat belt to ride up onto the abdomen, which increases the risk of injury in a crash.

Use seat belts properly and have kids sit in the safest seat always! Only teens and adults should sit up front.
 Use seat belts properly and have kids sit in the safest seat always! Only teens and adults should sit up front.

Front seat

All children less than 13 years of age should remain in the back seat.

It’s easy to remember that only teens and adults can sit up front.

This is not based only on height or weight. Physical maturity makes a difference as well.

And remember…

Don’t rush your kids to grow up too soon!

Top 10 Tips for Going to an Urgent Care

School’s back in session, which means sick season is approaching quickly! The pure volume of sick visits can be overwhelming for any clinic, whether visits are scheduled or walk in, but the nature of walk in clinics makes the volume unpredictable. Sometimes no one in walks in, other times several come at once. Urgent cares and walk in clinics are wonderful for the overall speed at which one can be seen, but how can you help streamline the process? How can you keep your primary care physician in the loop? Here are my top tips for a successful urgent care trip and knowing when to avoid them.

1.  Write down symptoms.

It sounds crazy to write down things since you know your child better than anyone, but if your child is sick you are probably sleep deprived and might forget important details.

Writing things down helps everyone summarize what is going on and get facts straight. The diagnosis often lies in the history, and if the person bringing the child in does not know symptoms well, it’s difficult to make a proper diagnosis.

This also forces you to think about the symptoms, and you might realize that you don’t know everything that’s going on. This is especially true if your child spends time away from you at school, daycare, or with another parent. It’s better to recognize that you need more of the story before you get to the clinic!

2.  Expect to be seen for one acute problem.

Illnesses typically have more than one symptom despite being a single illness. It’s appropriate to bring a child in for multiple symptoms, such as cough, fever, and sore throat.

It is not appropriate to bring them in for those issues as well as a wart and headache of 3 months off and on. If there are unrelated things, expect to deal with the most acute issue and then follow up with your usual physician to discuss the more chronic things at a scheduled appointment.

The nature of walk in clinics is that they move rapidly. The number of patients checking in at any given time can be large, so each visit must be quick. If you need more time to address many issues or one big condition, schedule an appointment.

3.  Don’t attempt to get care for a chronic issue.

Chronic issues are always best managed by your Primary Care Provider (PCP), but exacerbations of chronic issues might need to be seen quickly.

This means that sudden changes to a condition, such as wheezing in an asthmatic, can be addressed at an urgent care, but routine asthma management should be done during a scheduled visit. Your child can go to the walk in for the wheezing, but should follow up with the PCP with a scheduled appointment to discuss any changes needed to the daily medication regimen (Action Plan) to prevent further wheezing.

This is especially important if you went to another urgent care or ER for initial treatment so that your doctor knows about the recent exacerbation of a chronic issue.

4.  Do not add additional children to the visit.

Many parents bring additional kids to the visit and ask if we can “just take a peek” in their ears.

If you want them to be seen, check them in too. Again, walk in clinics move quickly and the “quick” peek often takes longer than you’d think because the child is running around the room or fighting the exam.

The quick peek also does not allow for documentation of findings in the medical record, which might be helpful in the future.

5.  Have your insurance card and co-payment ready at check in.

Streamline checking in by having everything ready.

It’s surprising to me how many people must return to their car for their wallet. For safety reasons, never leave a purse or wallet in your car.

6.  Try to bring only the child who is being seen.

It is difficult to focus on one sick child when another is running around the room, falling off the exam table, or constantly asking questions. This applies to scheduled as well as walk in visits.

I know this becomes a childcare issue, but it can really help focus on the child being seen if you leave additional children at home if at all possible. Think of friends who always offer to have a play date with the healthy child. Or maybe plan to bring one child when the other is at school.

If you must bring multiple kids, set the stage right by avoiding bringing tired and hungry kids. Don’t come at nap time if at all possible. Tired kids are miserable kids. Give them a healthy snack before going to the clinic. Don’t feed your kids at the office – another child could have a food allergy to whatever you’re feeding them, which can put other kids at risk. Bring books or toys that your kids can be entertained with during the visit.

7. Bring medications your child has recently taken.

Often parents have tried treatments at home, but are not sure what was in the bottle.

Bring all medications to help us advise on correct dosage and use of the medications. This includes prescription medicines as well as over the counter supplements, medicines, and natural therapies.

8. Use your regular doctor’s office if available.

I know not all doctor’s offices have walk in hours and most are not open all night long, but most walk in type visits are not emergent and they can wait until the next business day.

Treating symptoms with home remedies is quite acceptable for most illnesses for a couple days. This might even be beneficial to see how the symptoms change over time. Some kids are brought in at the first sign of fever, and look normal on exam, only to develop cough and earache over the next few days. When the symptoms change, so might the exam and treatments!

This is a very important issue and I’ll write more on it next week. Stay tuned! ***Check out Why Wait to See Your Regular Doctor ****

9.  Please don’t use walk in clinics to have health forms filled out.

I know it is tempting to get a quick physical to get a sports form or work physical signed, but doing so breaks the concept of a medical home.

If you get these forms completed outside your PCP’s office, you don’t get a comprehensive visit. The visit with your PCP should include reviewing growth, development, safety, immunization status, and more. It’s more than just filling out forms. You lose the opportunity to share what has happened in the past year and continue to build a trusting relationship.

If the medical home does all the well visits and vaccines, we have up to date records and can update them as needed. Some kids have missed school because vaccines were missed and they can’t return until they get them. Others have gotten extra doses of vaccines because a record of a shot was missing and parents can’t remember where they got the vaccine.

We request a well visit yearly in the medical home after age 3, more often for infants.  If in need of a well visit, please call the office to schedule!

10. Call first if you’re not sure!

If you’re not sure if it’s okay to tough it out at home overnight, call your doctor’s office.

We can often give tips on how to manage symptoms to save the emergency room co pay and germ exposure. Sometimes we do advise going to be seen. If there are concerns about dehydration, difficulty breathing, mental status changes, or other significant issues, waiting overnight is not appropriate.

Most urgent care visits are really not that urgent. They can be handled during normal business hours in your medical home!

Related posts

Don’t look for quick fixes for your cold!

Convenience Care

Help Us Help You! Make the most out of phone calls

Improper Use of Antibiotics: Don’t take the risk

Top 10 Tips for Going to an Urgent Care

Evolution of Illness

Why Wait to See Your Regular Doctor When the Urgent Care is Right There?

A Bedtime Stimulant for ADHD?

Most parents of children with ADHD are familiar with stimulant medications. These include medicines in the ritalin and adderall family. There are many brands and formulations, but they are given in the morning and wear off at some point in the day. One of the problems is that when kids wake up, they are not medicated, which makes getting out the door a daily struggle. There’s a new technology that’s designed to allow medicine given at night to start working in the morning. This is different from the non-stimulant ADHD medicines that are used at night. Is a bedtime stimulant right for your child?

Disclaimer

As this was only recently announced and is not yet on the market, I have no experience in using this novel medicine. I wanted to learn about it and thought I’d share what I learn, but I am not promoting its use since I have no experience with it.

I want to caution people who it will take quite awhile before this will be covered on insurance plans and available for mainstream use. It’s good for parents to be aware of what’s in development, which is why I’m writing about as I learn, but you must talk to your own physician about what medications are right for you or your child.

Most of the information about the new medicine is from the company that is developing it, Highland Therapeutics. This is not an unbiased source.

Stimulant vs Non-stimulant medicines

You might know kids who have ADHD medicines that already work in the morning, so you might be wondering what benefit this new system offers.

The non-stimulant medications can continue to work in the morning. This new delivery system is for stimulant medicines. For many kids, the stimulant medicines simply work better for the majority of the daytime hours, even though they don’t last as long as the non-stimulants.

For more on ADHD medications, see ADHD Medications: Types and side effects.

New formulation of methylphenidate

The FDA has approved Jornay PM, a medication that uses a new drug delivery system for methylphenidate, one of the two main stimulants used for ADHD. The company that makes this, Ironshore Pharmaceuticals, is also working on one for amphetamine, but it has not yet been approved.

Jornay PM is expected to be available in the first part of 2019. This does not mean that your pharmacy will stock it or that insurance will cover it. I do not know how it will be priced, but typically new medicines are expensive.

Methylphenidate is the active ingredient commonly referred to as ritalin. For many years we have had short acting and long acting forms of ritalin to use for people with ADHD. The short acting medicines generally last 3-4 hours and the long acting last 6-12 hours.

The new formulation of methylphenidate in Jornay PM is designed to be given at night so that it begins to work in the morning. The time release will allow the child to fall asleep without any of the active ingredient taking effect until several hours later. The idea is to figure out the timing so that when the child wakes, the medicine is already taking effect.

Why is this needed?

Many parents of kids with ADHD know the struggle of getting out the door in the morning.

While many kids can be expected to follow the morning routine of getting up, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, and dressing, kids with ADHD often get lost in this process. Every day.

The distractibility is not their fault. Getting ready in the morning requires many steps. Anything that requires time management and organization is difficult for people with ADHD.

The medicines they take typically take to help with these functions take about an hour to take effect. They need this medicine to be able to stay on task and help with executive functioning skills, not just to do school work.

There are certainly things that can be done to help that don’t involve medicine.  Many kids benefit from putting clothes out and packing backpacks the night before. Charts with all the daily expectations can help kids visualize what needs to happen.

But they still struggle to stay on task without medicine. They often run late. Families fight despite the best intentions. When kids finally get out of the door, homework or needed materials are often forgotten. Self esteem is impaired with these daily struggles.

Many parents ask for help with morning struggles

Some kids have benefited from a non-stimulant for this purpose. Non-stimulants, such as guanfacine, clonidine, and atomoxetine, can be effective upon waking. Guanfacine and clonidine can help kids sleep as well, which is an added bonus to kids with ADHD, since many struggle with sleep issues. These medicines can be used alone or with stimulant medicines, but they aren’t effective for everyone.

Other parents have snuck into bedrooms to put a methyphenidate patch on their child so it starts to work before the child wakes. While this works well for kids that respond well to methylphenidate, they are very expensive and many families cannot afford them. Some kids don’t like wearing a patch or they get skin irritation from them.

How does this work?

Jornay PM uses a delivery system called DELEXIS. In this system the beads with medication inside resist water and dissolving.

The beads do not release any medicine immediately. They travel through the small intestine without dissolving for about 10 hours. When they reach a part of our intestine called the ileum, they are able to start dissolving.

The medicine will be effective for many hours once it starts to be released. The delayed release layer starts to provide medicine about 10 hours after ingestion. Specific timing is affected by foods and drinks taken in the evening. It is recommended to be consistent with eating and drinking when taking this medicine.

Inside the bead deeper than the delayed release layer is an extended release layer. This releases the medication even later than the delayed release layer, to provide for many hours of benefit.

About 14 hours after ingestion starts the maximum concentration of medication levels. Absorption of the medication continues through the early evening.

Will it be right for your child?

All of this sounds great for the kids who need help from the first thing in the morning until later in the evening, but I will wait to see how it really works. We’ll all have to wait to see if it works as stated or not.

Will this new delayed medication delivery system benefit your child?
Will this new medication delivery system benefit your child?

 

 

Homework Battle Plan: Prepare Now!

Any parent with school aged children knows that homework can be a battle. Even good students can procrastinate, prefer to play, or have practice after school, leaving little time for homework.  Then there are the kids who struggle…

Student Responsibility

We all know that kids need help with homework. Sometimes parents help too much. Kindergarten projects should not look professionally done. Even when kids hate doing the work, they need to do it. If they cannot, you need to talk to the teacher to get the work scaled to what they can accomplish. Don’t do it for them.

Step back, one step at a time.

As kids get older, parents should offer less and less help.

It makes sense that young elementary school students will need help learning to organize their things and plan the appropriate amount of time to complete homework and projects.

If they are not asked to assume more responsibility over the years, many will never take over the tasks that they can be capable of doing.

The goal is that by the later half of high school teens can organize their work, schedule their time efficiently, and get it done without reminders. I know that sounds impossible for many kids, but if your senior is still needing you to nudge daily for homework, they will not survive when they leave home. Mommy isn’t there to remind anymore.

I’ve written before about what kids need to know to leave the nest if you want to think about all the things they need to be responsible to do.

How can you help your kids with homework without letting it become your problem? 

I am a firm believer that kids are the students, not the parents.

Kids need to eventually take ownership of their homework and all other aspects of school. Of course, for many kids this is easier said than done, but I hear all too often of college kids who have Mommy call the Professor to question a grade.

That is totally unacceptable.

Kids need to practice ownership from early on. Parents need to guide always, but manage less and less as the kids grow.

Not every solution comes from a cookie cutter mold. Kids have different personalities and abilities.

You know your kids best. Think how they work and what makes them tick.

All kids need the basics

Many parents underestimate the problem with missing out on basics: sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

If kids don’t get the amount of sleep they need, healthy foods, and regular exercise, they will not be as successful academically.

After school have a set time for kids to eat a healthy snack and get a bit of exercise. Both help make homework time more productive!

I have blogged on this previously on this site and on a teen site about developing self confidence. I really feel that finding balance is important for everyone for mental and physical health and success.

Find the right solution

Kids have different problems with homework at different times, and they each deserve their own solutions. 

Not one of these “types” fits every child perfectly.

Most kids have more than one of these qualities, but tend to fit into one type best.

Procrastination:

There is always something more fun to do than work.  Kids will put off overwhelming tasks or big projects because, well, there’s a lot to do.

Don’t just ask what homework they have due tomorrow, but also if there are any big projects due in the near or later future. See if they can estimate how much time it will take to do the project and help them plan how much to do each night to get it done on time.

Breaking big assignments or long worksheets into small pieces with short breaks in between can help kids focus. Use a timer for breaks or do a fun quick activity, like silly dance to one song.

Allow kids to have some “down” time after school for a healthy snack (brain food) and to run off energy. Limit this time with a timer to 30 minutes or so. The timer helps kids know there is an end point to the fun, and then it’s time for work. Play can resume when work is done correctly.

For more procrastination avoidance tips, visit Finish Tasks. It was written for teens, but has tips anyone can use!

Poor Self Confidence:

Kids who are afraid they won’t understand their homework might fear even starting.

They might blame the teacher for not teaching it correctly.

Some might complain that they are stupid or everyone else is smarter.

They blame the class for being too loud, causing distraction and therefore more homework.

Or they might complain of chronic headaches or belly aches due to anxiety.

All of these are problems with a fixed mindset. Many kids suffer from the negativity of a fixed mindset, but you can help them learn to have a growth mindset.

Praise kids when they do things right and when they give a good try, even if they have an incorrect answer. Praising effort builds their resilience and growth mindset. If you focus on the outcome, they develop a fixed mindset, which is associated with less success overall.

Be honest, but try to think of something positive to tell them each day. When they don’t meet expectations, first see if they can see the mistake and find a solution themselves.  Guide without giving the solution. Then praise the effort!

Find their strengths and allow them to follow those. If they are poor in math but love art, keep art materials at home and display their projects with pride. Consider an art class.

Remember to budget time. Over scheduling can result in anxiety, contributing to the problems.

Perfectionist:

While the desire to do everything right has its benefits, it can cause a lot of anxiety in kids. These kids think through things so much that they can’t complete the task. See also the “poor self confidence” section above, because these kids are at risk for feeling they are failures if they don’t get a 100% on everything. They can have melt downs if the directions don’t make sense or if they have a lot of work to do.

Help with organization

Help your child learn organizational techniques, such as write down assignments and estimate time to do each project. Plan how much time to spend each day on big projects and limit to that time. Help them review their progress in the middle of big projects to see if they are on track. If not, have them establish another calendar and learn to review why they are behind.

Watch for self-blame

Watch for self-blame when things don’t go well. Is it because one step took longer than projected, they were invited to a movie and skipped a day, they got sick and were not able to work… This helps plan the next project and builds on planning skills. Use failures as growing experiences, not something to regret!

Build self confidence

Remember to give attention and praise for just being your kid. These kids feel pressure to succeed, but they need to remember that they are loved unconditionally.

If you notice they have an incorrect answer,  state “that isn’t quite right. Is there another way to approach the problem?”

Not everything is about the grade. Praise the effort they put into all they do, not the end point. Make positive comments on other attributes: a funny thing they said, how they helped a younger child, how they showed concern for someone who was hurt.

Leave the comfort zone

Encourage them to try something new that is outside their talent. Not only are they exploring life, but they are developing new skills, and learning to be humble if they aren’t the best at this activity. Help them praise others. Model this behavior in your own life.  

Co-dependence:

Helicopter parenting is a term often used to describe the parent hovering over the child in everything they do. This does not allow a child to learn from failing. It does not allow a child to grow into independence.

It involves the parent “owning” the homework. These kids call home when they leave the homework or lunch on the kitchen table for Mommy to bring it to school. They often grow up blaming everyone when things don’t go their way and Mommy can’t fix it. These kids don’t learn to stand up for themselves. They seem constantly immature with life situations.

Slowly give over ownership

Young children need more guidance, but gradually decrease this as they get older. Teachers can help guide you on age appropriate needs. There are kids who need more help than their peers. For example, kids with ADHD are often 3-5 years behind their peers in skills that involve executive functioning. Your 10 year old with ADHD might need the support typically given to 5-8 year olds, but that does not mean they should rely on you to the same degree year after year. They must also continue to grow.

Most parents must sign a planner of younger kids, but as kids get older the kids become more responsible for knowing what the homework is. Many schools now have websites that parents can check homework assignments, but be sure the kids own the task of knowing what is due too.

Have a place that children can work on homework without distraction (tv, kids playing, etc).

Advise, but don’t do it

Be available to answer questions, but don’t do the work for them. If they need help, find another way to ask the question that might help them see the solution. Get a piece of scrap paper that they can try to work through the problem. If they have problems with reading comprehension, have them read a few lines then summarize to you what they read.  They can take notes on their summary, then read the notes after the entire chapter to get a full summary.

Busy, busy, busy:

Some kids are really busy with after school activities, others just rush through homework to get it done so they can play.

Set limits on screen time

Set limits on how much screen time (tv, video games, computer time) kids can have each week day and week end.

If they know they can’t have more than 30 minutes of screen time, they are less likely to rush through homework to get to the tv or computer.

It used to be recommended no more than 10 hours a week for screen time, but newer guidelines are more flexible. This is because the quality of screen time can vary considerably and it is constantly changing. Many kids require screen time for homework.

The big thing is that kids need balance. They should still have the opportunity to play with friends in real life. Kids need exercise. They should learn to problem solve through interactions with friends. Too many hours on a screen diminish the time with real people and in active play.

Do it right

Ask kids to double check their work and then give to you to double check if you know they make careless mistakes.

Don’t correct the mistakes, but kindly point them out and ask if they can find a better answer.

Once they learn that they have to sit at the homework station until all the work is done correctly, they might not be so quick to rush.

Avoid overscheduling

If kids have after school activities the time allowed for home work and down time are affected. Avoid over scheduling, especially in elementary school.

Be sure they have time for homework, sleep, healthy meals, and free time in addition to their activities.  

Are the activities really so important that they should interfere with the basic needs of the child? Is the child mature enough to handle the work load?

It is generally recommended to allow kids to do up to their age in number of hours of extra curricular activities. A 10 year old can do up to 10 hours of extra curriculars per week. This means they really shouldn’t take dance class 3 hours a day 4 days a week. That’s too many hours. And remember it all adds up: sports, music lessons, scouts – don’t over schedule!

When they can’t sit still

Kids who are in constant motion can’t seem to sit still long enough to do homework. Be sure they have the proper balance of sleep, nutrition, and exercise or all else will fail.

Praise their efforts when they are successful.

Schedule breaks

Set a timer after school to let them play hard for 30 minutes, but then make them get work done.

Help little ones organize what needs to be done and break homework into several smaller jobs.

Set regular 5 minute breaks every 30 minutes so they can release energy. Set a timer to remind them to get back to work and compliment them when they get back on task.

For more organization tips, see this blog on finishing tasks..

Don’t require sitting still

Some kids do better staying focused if they can stand to work. If you have a table, counter or desk that fits their height when standing, let them use it. When standing helps, try to problem solve places that they can do it to help with productivity!

If your kids need movement, let them wiggle. Kicking the legs or constant wiggling helps some kids.

Fidget items can help, so let your child use them as long as they don’t become a play item that distracts.

If you have an exercise ball, let them sit on it. No ball? Try a pillow on a chair.

Time matters

If kids wait to do homework until evening hours, it might not be as productive and it can interfere with getting to sleep.

When we’re tired, we don’t stay as focused, so everything takes longer. We constantly need to refocus. We don’t learn as well, so studying is less effective.

If homework requires getting on a computer or tablet, the light exposure suppresses the melatonin level. Melatonin is needed to feel tired and go to sleep. If kids are on a screen too close to bedtime, they will struggle to fall asleep. Try to get them to do all work that requires a computer done first. Ideally all screens will be off at least 1-2 hours of bedtime.

I see far too many teens who stay up far to late studying. They need to find a way to start homework earlier if at all possible. I know this is difficult with work and extracurricular schedules, but that brings us back to avoiding over scheduling…

Kids with ADHD

Timing matters even more if kids need medicine to help them stay focused. Don’t let them try to do homework after medicine wears off.

They’re not focused and a little homework takes a long time, which is frustrating to the child. They also won’t retain as much information they’re studying and they’re more likely to make silly mistakes or have unreadable handwriting. If the medicine doesn’t last late enough in the day, talk to your child’s doctor.

Struggling despite help:

There are many reasons kids struggle academically.  Reasons vary, such as behavior problems, anxiety, illness, learning disabilities, bullying, and more.

Work with the teacher

If they are struggling academically, talk with the teacher to see if there are any areas that can be worked on in class or with extra help at school.

Can the teacher offer suggestions for what to work on at home?

Talk to your child’s physician

If kids have chronic pains or school avoidance, ask what is going on.

Depression and anxiety aren’t obvious and can have vague symptoms that are different than adult symptoms.

Bullying can lead to many consequences, and many kids suffer in silence.

If your child won’t talk to you, consider a trained counselor.

Talk with your pediatrician if your child is struggling academically despite resource help at school or if he suffers from chronic headaches or tummy aches. Treating the underlying illness and ruling out medical causes of pain is important. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other learning disorders can be difficult to identify, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, these kids can really succeed and improve their self confidence!

Will Standing Hurt a Baby’s Feet or Legs?

“Will standing hurt my baby’s legs?”

I’m surprised how often I’m asked if having a baby “stand” on a parent’s lap will make them bow-legged or otherwise hurt them. Standing and jumping while being held and supported is a natural thing babies do, so why do so many parents worry if standing will cause bow legs or other problems?

Old Wives Tales are ingrained in our societies and because they are shared by people we trust, they are often never questioned.

Bowed legs from allowing babies to stand with support is one of those tales.

If an adult holds a baby under the arms and supports the trunk to allow the baby to bear weight on his legs, it will not harm the baby.

Many babies love this position and will bounce on your leg. It allows them to be upright and see the room around them.

Supported standing can help build strong trunk muscles.

Other ways to build strong muscles in infants:

Tummy time

tummy time, prevent flat heads
Supervise tummy time when Baby’s awake!

This is a simple as it sounds. Place your baby on his or her tummy. Be sure s/he’s on a flat surface that is not too soft.

I think the earlier you start this, the better it’s tolerated. You can even do it before your newborn’s umbilical cord stump falls off!

Initially babies will not lift their head well, so be sure they don’t spend too much time face down. This can cause problems with their breathing. A brief time doing this is safe though as long as they aren’t laying on fluffy stuff. This is a major reason to never leave your baby alone on his stomach.

Use this as a play time.

Move brightly colored or noisy objects in front of your baby’s head to encourage your baby to look up at it. Older siblings love to lay on the floor and play with “their” baby this way!

Many babies will look like they’re taking off trying to fly. Others will put their hands down and look like they’re doing push ups. Around  4 months they can support their upper body weight on their elbows. All of these are good for building muscles.

Parents often avoid tummy time because their babies hate it. It’s hard to hear babies cry, I know. You can progressively make it harder for your baby without being a mean drill sergeant! Increase the time on their tummy as they gain strength. Start with just a minute or two several times a day. If you never do it, they’ll never get better.

Bonus: Tummy time helps to prevent flat heads!

Chest to chest:

From day one babies held upright against a parent’s chest will start to lift their heads briefly. You will most likely go to this position to burp your baby sometimes.

The more babies hold their head up, the stronger the neck muscles get. Chest to chest isn’t as effective as floor tummy time for muscle strength development, but it’s a great cuddle activity!

The more reclined you are, the more they work. Think of yourself doing push ups. If you do push ups against the wall, it’s pretty easy. If you put your hands on a chair, they get a little harder. Then if you put hands and feet on the floor, they’re even harder. Lift your feet onto a higher surface and it’s even harder.

Chest to chest time can be an easy version of tummy time, but I don’t want it to replace tummy time completely. Make time for both each day!

Lifting gently:

When your baby is able to grasp your fingers with both hands from a laying position, gently lift baby’s head and back off the surface. This can usually start around 6 weeks of age.

Babies will get stronger neck muscles by lifting their head and strong abdominal muscles by tightening their abs even though you’re doing most of the lifting. You could call these baby sit ups!

Be careful to not make sudden jerks and to not allow the baby to fall back too fast.

Kicking:

Place your baby on his back with things to kick near his or her feet.

Things that make a noise or light up when kicked make kicking fun!

You can also give gentle resistance to baby’s kicks with your hand to build leg muscles.

Bicycling:

When you ride a bike, you get exercise, You can help your newborn stretch and strengthen leg muscles by making the bicycle motion with his or her legs.

When babies are first born they are often stiff from being in the womb. They will learn to stretch their legs, but you can help by moving them in a bicycle pattern. They usually find this to be great fun!

I also suggest doing this after they get their first few vaccines to help with muscle soreness, much like you move your arm around after getting shots. Generally by 4 months, babies kick enough that they can do this on their own.

Sitting:

Allow your baby to sit on your lap or on the floor with less and less support from you.

You can start this when your baby has enough head and trunk control to not bop around constantly when you hold him or her upright for burping. Don’t wait until 6 months to start – by this age some babies can already sit for brief periods alone if they were given the opportunity to practice when younger.

A safe easy position is with the parent on the floor with legs in a “V” and baby at the bottom of the “V” – this offers protection from falling right, left, and back.

When your baby is fairly stable, you can put pillows behind him or her and supervise independent sitting. Never leave babies unattended sitting at this stage.

Big benefits

“Will standing hurt my baby’s legs?” is the wrong question.

Parents should ask more about what you can do to help your baby develop strong muscles. Standing with proper support is not only safe, but also beneficial!

What are your favorite activities to help your baby grow and develop strong muscles?
Will standing hurt a baby's feet and legs? What about hips?

How To Use Nose Sprays Correctly

Nasal sprays are the preferred treatment for allergies based on guidelines, but I hear many reasons why people don’t use them. Some simply think they don’t work well. Others have gotten nosebleeds. Some simply don’t like the bad taste they get from using them. If used incorrectly you’ll taste medicine or feel a drip down the back of your throat. Nose sprays won’t work as well if used incorrectly and they might even traumatize the nose, leading to nosebleeds – and that traumatizes some kids and many of their parents. Using them correctly can help alleviate symptoms of allergies and allow kids to enjoy the great outdoors!

Start by using the right nose spray – or sprays

There are many nose sprays out there, and you need to be sure you’re using the correct product for your needs.

First you’ll need to know that allergy symptoms are caused by histamines. In a person who is sensitive to pollen, dust mites, or animal dander, histamine is released in response to exposure. The histamine can cause swelling of the nose or eyes, watery eyes, runny nose, and itch. Allergy treatments either focus on limiting allergen exposure, preventing the histamine release, or blocking the histamine response.

All of the nose sprays used for allergy management (except saline) are listed on the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology ALLERGY & ASTHMA MEDICATION GUIDE.

Saline

Saline is great for the nose. I actually prefer saline washes over saline sprays, but the sprays are good too. See the 2nd video below for why I love saline washes.

Saline helps to remove the pollen from the nose to limit the exposure time. It also helps to shrink swollen nasal tissues, which makes it easier to breathe, and loosens mucus to help get it out.

Saline is just salt water, so if you want something natural, this is it!

Many parents ask how often to use saline sprays, and it really can be used whenever it’s needed. For prevention of allergies, use it after going outside and before bed during pollen seasons. If you’re using it because of a stuffy nose, you can use it several times a day.

Saline can be used even in babies. If you use saline spray or saline drops they can be followed with blowing the nose (or using an aspirator).

I love to use saline first followed by a good blow (or suction) to clear out the nose. After the nose is cleared, if that’s not sufficient to last the whole day, the other sprays are more effective. Saline doesn’t have medicine to last several hours, but can be used before medicated sprays to help them be more effective.

Mast Cell Inhibitor

Cromolyn sodium is a mast cell inhibitor that can be used for allergies. It prevents the release of histamine, which causes allergic symptoms.

Cromolyn sodium must be started 1-2 weeks before pollen season and continued daily to prevent seasonal allergy symptoms. It doesn’t work as well as corticosteroid nasal sprays, so I generally don’t recommend cromolyn.

These sprays can be used in children as young as 2 years of age.

The biggest drawback is that it is recommended every 4 hours, up to 4 times a day. This is really hard to keep up every day during allergy season.

Antihistamine

If you don’t want the dry mouth or sleepiness associated with an oral antihistamine, you can try a nose spray antihistamine. Both oral and nasal antihistamines block the histamine from causing the typical allergy symptoms.

Antihistamine nasal sprays are approved for use down to 5 years of age.

Corticosteroid sprays tend to work better in the long run, but antihistamines are effective more quickly, so are good for rapid relief.

Antihistamine nose sprays are only needed once or twice a day, but since most kids like oral medicines better than nose sprays and you shouldn’t duplicate with both, I generally recommend that antihistamines be given orally.

Decongestant

Decongestant sprays are popular because they work quickly, but I rarely recommend them. The most common time I use them is to help get things stuck in the nose out.

Oxymetazoline hydrochloride (Afrin, Dristan, Sinex) and phenylephrine hydrochloride (Neo-Synephrine) are some examples of nasal spray decongestants. They are available over the counter.

Decongestant sprays shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues in your nose that cause congestion.

They can be used temporarily in kids over 6 years old, but if you use them longer than 3 days they actually cause more congestion.

Steroid

Corticosteroid nasal sprays can be used in kids over 2 years of age and are the preferred treatment in allergy guidelines because they work well.

These can be used once or twice a day year-round or just as needed for allergy relief. It’s best to start them 2-3 weeks before allergy season starts because it does take time for them to be most effective. If you forget to use them until symptoms start, it may take several days to feel benefit.

Corticosteroid nasal sprays are available over the counter. There are many brands, including less expensive store brands. They have various steroid active ingredients, but all work pretty well.

I generally recommend the non-fluticasone brands for kids. This is not because of the effectiveness of fluticasone. It works. But it smells flowery and many kids will resist it due to the smell.

Nasal steroids are approved for use to help allergies, but they also decrease the amount of mucus from other causes, such as the common cold.

If you’re worried about the side effects of steroids, know that the risk is very low with nasal corticosteroids. The dose is extremely small and nasal corticosteroids are considered to be safe for prolonged use, even in kids.

Because they work so effectively and are well tolerated, nasal steroids are my preferred allergy medicine. They can be used with antihistamines if needed.

Anticholinergic

Ipratropium is the ingredient in anticholinergic nasal sprays. It helps to decrease a runny nose by stopping the production of mucus. One downside to ipratropium is that it doesn’t help congestion or sneezing very well.

Ipratropium nasal spray can be used over 5 years of age for up to 3 weeks at a time for runny noses from allergies and colds.

It is available by prescription only and I’ve never personally prescribed it. I personally think it has too many limitations and few benefits.

Allergen blocker

I have to admit that I’ve never even heard of this before, but I saw it on the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology site referenced above.

Alzair produces a protective gel-like barrier that evenly coats the nasal membranes and acts to block inhaled allergens within the nasal cavity. It’s available by prescription and looks like it’s approved for kids 8 and over.

One downside is that it needs to be used every time you blow your nose, so I don’t see it useful for school aged kids who have to go to the nurse for all treatments.

If anyone has used it, I’d love to hear your comments below about how it works!

Using nose sprays – it’s all about technique

Most people use nose sprays incorrectly, even if they pick the right one.

It’s not intuitive how to use them correctly. We tend to aim towards the center of the nose (which leads to nosebleeds) and inhale too much (which leads to icky drip down the throat).

Getting ready

Blow your nose. Or even better, rinse it with saline!

Take off the cap. You’d be surprised how many people skip this step.

Shake the bottle before each use. Think of Italian salad dressing. If you don’t shake it, you won’t get the good stuff.

You will need to be sure the tube inside the bottle has the liquid in it if it’s a new bottle or hasn’t been used in awhile. Much like when you get a new pump soap, you need to pump a few times to get results. Once you see the mist come out, you know the medicine’s ready to spray out.

Positioning

Be sure to keep the bottle fairly upright during the spraying. See the 1st video below for why this is important.

Many people tilt their head back when using nose sprays. Don’t. You’ll get more drip down your throat and less effective spray onto the nasal tissues.

Look slightly down.

Put the tip of the spray bottle into the nose and aim toward the back of the eye on the same side of the head. Don’t ever aim toward the center of the nose. This causes nosebleeds. Use the right hand to spray the left nostril and the left hand to spray the right nostril to help get the proper positioning.

Spraying

When the tip of the spray bottle is in your nose properly, squeeze the bottle.

Take the bottle out of your nose before releasing the squeeze. If it’s still in your nose, it will suck up whatever’s in there… including germs that can grow in the bottle.

Don’t feel like you need to inhale the stuff to your brain. The medicine works in the nose. Sniffing too much will make the medicine bypass your nasal tissue and go to the back of your throat. This misses the opportunity for the medicine to work where it’s supposed to work and it’s an icky feeling in the throat.

Sniff only enough after the spray to keep it from dripping out.

Finishing up

Wipe the top of the bottle clean before putting the lid back on.

Store the bottle out of reach of children and keep it out of the direct sunlight.

For more

I’ve always said that one day I’d make videos of how to use nose sprays and nose wash systems correctly. I know this post is about nose sprays, but if your nose is plugged with mucus, the sprays just won’t work.

Nasopure has a number of videos on how to use nose washes that I frequently recommend. I don’t get paid at all from Nasopure — I just love the bottle and their website resources. And they’re even made in Kansas City!

Until now I haven’t found a great video on how to use nose sprays. Thanks to Dr. Mark Helm, I’ve finally found a great video for how to use nasal sprays.

I’m off the hook for making videos!

I like this video from AbrahamThePharmacist. He gives great information with a fun style.

I’ve shared the video below many times because it shows just how well a good nose wash can work. I warn parents that most kids don’t love it as much as this girl does. It usually involves a lot of crying and fighting in my experience, but it is so worth it! I don’t know where she got the tip for the syringe, but I’d recommend the Nasopure bottle as shown above.

And finally, for those who think their child is too young to do a nose wash, check out this cutie! She’s in several of the Nasopure videos but she shows perfect technique here!

Alphabet Soup of Meningitis Vaccines: A, C, W, Y, B… What does it mean?

In my previous post I discussed the many different types of meningitis and most of the vaccines used to prevent them. Meningococcal meningitis deserves its own post because there are different strains of meningococcus and different vaccines to cover those strains. We’re familiar with the recommended vaccine schedule, but one type of meningitis vaccine falls into a lesser known category, so it’s very confusing. Here I’ll discuss the two main types of meningitis vaccines that protect against meningococcal meningitis as well as the recommendations for their use.

Meningococcal meningitis can refer to any meningitis caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, but there are many different types of N. meningitidis. We have vaccines to protect against types A, C, W, Y, and B.

Who gets N. meningitis?

Infants, teens, and young adults are most likely to get meningococcal meningitis. You can see from the graph that infants have the highest risk, followed by the elderly, but there is a bump in the adolescent years. Among the adolescents, 16-23 years of age is the highest risk.

Meningococcal disease incidence by age.
Source: CDC

People at increased risk

Like most infectious diseases, risk increases if there are a lot of people living in close quarters. This is why college outbreaks occur, but even teens and young adults not in college are at a higher risk.

People who have weak immune systems or a damaged or missing spleen are at higher risk.

Sub-Saharan Africa is called the meningitis belt. People who live or visit there are at risk.

Living in or visiting areas of a current or recent outbreak of course elevates the risk.

Working in a lab that handles N. meningitidis bacteria is considered high risk.

Anyone at higher risk should talk to their doctor about when they are eligible for meningitis vaccines. These recommendations differ from the standard vaccine recommendations.

Rates of meningitis are falling

Rates of meningococcal disease have been falling in the US since the 1990s, mostly due to the routine use of meningococcal vaccines. Among 11 through 19 year olds, the rate of meningococcal disease caused by serogroups C, W and Y has decreased 80% since tweens and teens were first recommended to get a meningococcal conjugate vaccine.

Interestingly, serogroup B meningococcal disease has declined even though vaccines were not available to help protect against it until the end of 2014.

It is difficult to measure the impact of these vaccines because the overall incidence of the disease is so low. It takes large numbers of vaccines over time to measure effectiveness because the disease is so rare. It’s easier to notice change when something is frequent. The less common something is, the harder it is to follow trends and measure incidence.

Vaccines to prevent meningococcal meningitis

In the United States there are two types of meningococcal vaccines, quadrivalent and serogroup B.

Quadrivalent Conjugate Vaccines (MCV4)

Menactra and Menveo are different brands of meningococcal conjugate vaccine. These protect against serogroups A, C, W, and Y. Because there are four serogroups, it is called quadrivalent, shortened MCV4 – meningococcal conjugate vaccine 4.

Between 80-90% of tweens and teens vaccinated with Menactra show immune protection one month after completing the series. This protection drops to 70-90% of adults vaccinated with Menactra.

Between 70-90% of tweens, teens, and adults vaccinated with Menveo show immune protection 1 month after completing the series of vaccine.

The immunity from the MCV4 vaccines seems to fall after about 5 years.

Side effects from the vaccines are generally mild and self resolve within a few days. These side effects include redness and pain in the area of the injection as well as fever. More serious reactions, such as an allergic response, are possible but rare.

Any vaccine (or use of a needle for a blood draw) can lead to fainting in tweens and teens. It is recommended that they sit for 15 minutes after all vaccines and blood draws. This can help to prevent a head injury if they fall when they faint.

Routine recommendations

MCV4 is usually first given when kids are 11 to 12 years of age, followed by a booster at age 16 years.

The vaccine’s protection falls over time, so two doses are necessary. For most US children, getting the vaccine at 11 years protects through the early period of increased risk and the booster at 16 years covers the late teen and young adult years.

High risk groups

Children between 2 months and 10 years who are considered high risk based on the risk categories above should be vaccinated earlier.

Adults should get the MCV4 vaccine if they have the risk factors noted above.

Serogroup B Vaccines

Bexsero and Trumenba are meningococcal vaccines that protect against serogroup B. These vaccines are commonly called Meningitis B vaccines, or MenB. These vaccines are significantly different from one another, so if the series of vaccines is started, it needs to be completed with the same brand. They are not interchangeable, as are most vaccine brands. There is no preference of one brand over another.

Bexsero is a 2 dose series. Doses should be 1 month apart. Between 60-90% of people show immune response 1 month after completing the 2 dose series.

Trumenba is a 3 dose series. It should be given at 0, 1-2, and 6 months. If the 2nd dose is delayed beyond 6 months, only 2 doses are required. Eighty percent of people show a protective immune response one month after completing the series.

Side effects to MenB vaccines are generally mild. They include soreness, redness and swelling of the injection area, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pains, fever, nausea, and diarrhea. If these symptoms occur, they generally self resolve within a week. More serious reactions, such as an allergic reaction, are possible but rare.

Again, it is recommended that tweens and teens sit for 15 minutes after all vaccines and blood draws due to the risk of fainting.

High risk people

MenB vaccines are recommended for people at high risk between 10 and 25 years of age.

Healthy, low risk people

The tricky part is that Men B vaccine is only given permissive use for most 16-23 year olds.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes recommendations for vaccine use based on all the data that is collected. Members of the Committee felt that the data available did not support the routine use of MenB vaccines, so it is not on the list of recommended vaccines.

What is permissive use?

Permissive use means it is approved for use, but it isn’t one of the standardly recommended vaccines.

This category is given because the vaccine is felt to be safe, but there is not sufficient evidence to recommend that it be given routinely.

Is it ever required for healthy people?

Some colleges require it. This is often due to a recent local outbreak so they are considered high risk.

Does insurance cover it if it’s not recommended?

Most often insurance does cover the MenB vaccine, but this is one of the concerns raised by the groups who argued that it should be routinely recommended. They argued that some insurance companies might not cover it if it is not recommended.

If you plan to get the vaccine, you should check with your insurance carrier to see if it is covered.

Why isn’t it recommended for everyone?

The meningitis A,C,W,Y vaccine is recommended for everyone at 11 and 16 years of age, so why isn’t the meningitis B vaccine recommended for all?

MenB vaccines protect against the majority of currently circulating strains of meningococcal B, but not all. The MenB vaccine also gives only a short duration of protection.

It is expensive to vaccinate, and since there is a relatively low incidence of meningitis B disease, it would take a lot of money to prevent a single case. While no price can be put on the value of human life, the overall risk remains low to individuals, even when they are not vaccinated. All of these factors led to the committee’s decision.

Dr. Vincent Iannelli discusses the risks and benefits in more detail at Understanding the Recommendations to Get a Men B Vaccine if you want more details.

Where can you get MenB if you choose to get it?

Physician offices, student health care centers, pharmacies, and county health departments might offer the MenB vaccine. Since it is not on the standard schedule, they might opt to not carry it. If you desire it, you should ask if it’s available.

My office offered the MenB vaccine last summer, but we did not have enough patients want it after discussing the current recommendations. Much of our stock went unused and had to be wasted.

We did not feel that we could push it strongly despite the fact that we were losing money on unused stock.

I know this might surprise some who believe that doctors are just pharmaceutical shills. (Shills is a term used to imply that doctors offer vaccines only to make money despite knowing about their dangers.)

My partners and I didn’t push this vaccine because we didn’t believe strongly in it. We bought it to be able to offer it to patients who desired it, but since we couldn’t honestly say we recommended getting it, we had few want it.

In the end we decided to not re-order it. We no longer offer MenB vaccine.

We strongly believe in giving the vaccines that are recommended. Recommended vaccines have been shown to not only be safe, but also effective in preventing disease. They can make a big impact on our health as individuals and as a community.

Final MenB Vaccine Thoughts

Unfortunately, the MenB vaccine has failed to show sufficient effectiveness to support the cost of vaccinating everyone.

Putting value on one person’s life is not possible, so if my patients want this vaccine, I suggest they go to the health department, a pharmacy, or student health on their college campus.

I do not think it is wrong to get the vaccine. I simply can’t say that everyone should get it.

Some students must get it due to their school’s requirement. If a school requires it, that should not be argued. The schools with MCV4 requirements often have had a recent outbreak and are considered high risk. In that case, protect yourself!

Meningitis Basics: What you need to know.

Meningitis occurs when a virus or bacteria causes inflammation of our brain or spinal cord. We use several different vaccines to prevent a few types of meningitis, but it’s all very confusing. Recent commercials have raised questions about what these vaccines are and if they’re needed.

Today we’ll go over what meningitis is and what types of germs cause it. Next time I’ll discuss some of the new meningitis vaccines in more detail.

What is meningitis?

Symptoms of MeningitisBoth viruses and bacteria can cause meningitis, but not everyone with these germs gets meningitis. Most people have less severe symptoms when they get these infections.

Not everyone gets all the symptoms listed below when they have meningitis. Some of these symptoms are common to many less serious infections, but if your child has these symptoms and appears more sick than normal, he or she should be evaluated immediately.

Symptoms of meningitis include:
  • fever
  • stiff neck
  • body aches and pains
  • sensitivity to light
  • mental status changes
  • irritability
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • rash
  • poor feeding

Viral meningitis

Viruses are the most common cause of meningitis. Thankfully viral meningitis tends to be less severe than bacterial meningitis.

Most people recover on their own from viral meningitis. As with many infections, young infants and people who have immune deficiencies are most at risk.

There are many types of viruses that can cause meningitis. It’s likely that you’ve had many of these or have been vaccinated against them.

Non-polio enterovirus

The most common virus to cause meningitis is one from the non-polio enterovirus family.

Fever, runny nose, cough, rash, and blisters in the mouth are all symptoms that kids can get from this type of virus.

Most kids are infected with this type of virus at some point. Adults are less susceptible, and can even have the virus without symptoms.

There is no routine vaccine given for non-polio virus strains.

MM(R)V

Measles, mumps and chicken pox viruses can cause meningitis.

We vaccinate against these typically at 12-15 months of age, so it is uncommon to see these diseases. The MMR and varicella vaccines can be given separately or as MMRV. (Rubella is the “R” and can lead to brain damage in a fetus, but does not cause meningitis.)

Influenza

Influenza can cause meningitis, which is one of the reasons we recommend vaccinating yearly against flu starting at 6 months of age.

Herpesviruses

Herpesviruses can cause meningitis. Despite the name, most of these are not sexually transmitted.

This family of viruses includes Epstein-Barr virus,which leads to mono most commonly. Cold sores from herpes simplex viruses are also in this group. Chicken pox (or varicella-zoster virus) is another of these blistering viruses.

Bacterial meningitis

Bacteria that lead to meningitis can quickly kill, so prompt treatment is important. If you’ve been exposed to bacterial meningitis, you may be treated as well, but remember that most people who get these bacteria do not get meningitis.

Most people who get bacterial meningitis recover, but some have lasting damage. Hearing loss, brain damage, learning disabilities, and loss of limbs can result from various types of meningitis.

Causes of bacterial meningitis vary by age group:

Newborns

Newborns can be infected during pregnancy and delivery as well as after birth. They tend to get really sick very quickly, so this is one age group we take any increased risk of infection very seriously.

Bacteria that tend to infect newborns include Group B Streptococcus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli.

Mothers are routinely screened for Group B Strep during the last trimester of pregnancy. They are not treated until delivery because this bacteria does not cause the mother any problems and is so common that it could recur before delivery if it’s treated earlier. This could expose the baby at the time of delivery. If a mother does not get adequately treated with antibiotics before the baby is born, the baby may have tests run to look for signs of infection or might be monitored in the hospital a bit more closely.

Once the mother’s water breaks, we time how long it has been because this opens the womb up for germs to infect the baby. If the baby isn’t born during the safe timeframe, your delivering physician or midwife might suggest antibiotics. After delivery your baby might have tests done to look for signs of infection or might be monitored more closely in the nursery.

It is very important that sick people stay away from newborns as much as possible. Everyone should wash their hands well before handling a newborn.

Babies and children

As children leave the newborn period, their risks change. Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) are the bacteria that cause disease in this age group.

Thankfully we have vaccines against many of these bacteria. Infants should be vaccinated against S. pneumoniae and H. influenzae starting at 2 months of age. (Note: H. influenzae is not related at all to the influenza virus.)

Vaccines against N. meningitidis are available, but are not routinely given to infants at this time. High risk children should receive the vaccine starting at 2 months of age, but it is generally given at 11 years of age in the US.

Teens and young adults

Neisseria meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae are the risks in this age group.

Thankfully most teens in the US have gotten the S. pneumoniae vaccine as infants so that risk is lower than in years past.

Tweens and are routinely given a vaccine against A, C, W, and Y strains of N. meningitis. A vaccine against meningitis B is recommended for high risk people and can be given to lower risk teens. This will be discussed further in my next blog.

Older adults

Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), group B Streptococcus and Listeria monocytogenes affect the elderly

Talk to your parents to be sure they’re vaccinated and follow the vaccine recommendations for yourself too. Vaccines are not just for kids!

‘NI, Leptomeningitis purulenta cerebralis. Alfred Kast’ . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

 

Swimmer’s Ear

Not all ear infections are created equally. Swimmer’s ear differs from a middle ear infection. It is an inflammation of the skin lining the ear canal and is most common in older children and teens. Middle ear infections (otitis media) are caused by pus behind the eardrum and are most common in infants and younger children.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear (AKA otitis externa) gets its name because it is commonly caused by water in the ear canal making a good environment for bacteria to grow, causing an infection of the skin.

Water can come from many sources, including lakes, pools, bath tubs, and even sweat, so not only swimmers get swimmer’s ear.

Increasing the risk of swimmer’s ear:

Anything that damages the skin lining the ear canal can predispose to a secondary infection, much like having a scraped knee can lead to an infection of the skin on your knee. Avoid putting anything in your ears, since it can scratch the skin of the ear canal. This includes anything solid to clean wax out of the ear.

Excess earwax can trap water, so cleaning with a safe method can help prevent infection. A little wax is good though — it actually helps prevent bacterial growth. For more on earwax, please see Ear Wax: Good and Bad.

Yes, it sometimes hurts!

Swimmer’s ear can cause intense pain. Sometimes it starts as a mild irritation or itch, but pain worsens if untreated. It typically hurts more if the ear is pulled back or if the little bump at the front of the ear canal is pushed down toward the canal.

Ear buds (for a music player) or hearing aides can be very uncomfortable (and increase the risk of getting swimmer’s ear due to canal irritation).

Other symptoms:

Sometimes there is drainage of clear fluid or pus from the canal.

If the canal swells significantly or if pus fills the canal, hearing will be affected.

More severe cases can cause redness extending to the outer ear, fever, and swollen lymph nodes (glands) in the neck.

Swimmer’s ear can lead to dizziness or ringing in the ear.

Prevention of swimmer’s ear:

Controlling wax

If your child has excessive wax buildup, talk with his doctor about how often to clean the wax. Wax does help keep your ears clean, so you don’t want to clear it too much!

Keep out!

Never put anything solid into the ear canal.

Drying ears

Dry the ear canals when water gets in.

  • Tilt the head so the ear is down and hold a towel at the edge of the canal.
  • Use a hair dryer on a cool setting several inches away from the ear to dry it.
  • If kids get frequent ear infections or are in untreated water (such as a lake), use over the counter ear drops made to help clean the canal. You can buy them at a pharmacy or make them yourself with white vinegar and rubbing alcohol in a 1 to 1 ratio. Put 3-4 drops in each ear after swimming. The acid of the vinegar and the antibacterial properties of the alcohol help to clear bacteria, and the alcohol evaporates to help dry the canal.
  • DO NOT use these drops if there are tubes or a hole in the eardrum, if pus is draining, or if the ear itches or hurts.
Avoiding swimming when needed

If your child has a scratch in the ear or a current swimmer’s ear infection, avoid swimming for 3-5 days to allow the skin to heal.

Avoid bubble baths and other irritating liquids that might get into ear canals.

If there’s tubes…

If your child has tubes placed for recurrent middle ear infections, talk with your ENT about ear protection during swimming.

The use of ear plugs for swimming with tubes has been controversial, but are generally not needed. Dr. Burton discusses this in 5 Fantastical Ear Tube Myths .

Treating swimmer’s ear:

Pain control

If you think your child has swimmer’s ear, start with pain control at home with acetaminophen or ibuprofen per package directions.

Heating pads to the outer ear often help, but do not put any heated liquids into the ear.

Visit your doctor

Most often swimmer’s ear is not an emergency, but symptoms can worsen if not treated with prescription ear drops within a few days.

Bring your child to the office for an exam, diagnosis, and treatment as indicated. Most can go to their usual physician during during normal business hours if you can get adequate pain control at home.

When to be seen immediately

If the pain is severe, redness extends onto the face or behind the ear, the ear protrudes from the head, or there are other concerning symptoms, your child should be seen immediately at their primary care office or another urgent/emergent care setting.

Ear wicks

Occasionally we will remove debris from the canal or insert a wick to help the drops get past the inflamed/swollen canal.

Never attempt this at home unless you’ve been instructed on how to do it safely!

Prescription ear drops and oral medicine

The prescription ear drops may include an antibiotic (to kill the bacteria), a steroid (to decrease inflammation and pain), an acid (to kill bacteria), an antiseptic (to kill the bacteria), or a combination of these.  They are generally used 2-3 times/day.

Have your child lie on his or her side to put the drops in the ear. He or she should remain on that side for several minutes before getting up or changing sides to allow the medicine to stay in the ear. They can use a cotton ball or tissue to collect and dripping when they get up.

Symptoms generally improve after 24 hours and the infection clears within a week.

Oral antibiotics are usually not required unless the infection extends beyond the ear canal.

If an infection causes more itch than pain or does not clear with initial treatment, we might consider a fungal infection. This requires an anti-fungal medication.

No swimming until the infection clears.

Swimming just adds insult to injury. Let the skin heal before getting it soaked in the pool again!

Special circumstances

Kids (and adults) with diabetes or other immune deficiencies are more likely to get severely sick with any infection.

Visit your doctor early if you suspect a problem.

Can I talk to you privately?

Every once in a while a parent will tell the nurse that they want the child out of the room to discuss an issue with the doctor privately. This is usually something they perceive as a negative thing for the child to hear. Some of the most common concerns are about the child’s weight or behaviors. Sometimes it relates to a change in the family dynamics, such as divorce or a parent having a significant illness.

Secrets should never be kept…

While I understand the parent’s intentions, I find this to be disruptive and counter productive. As much as I try to find an excuse to have a child leave, it is usually obvious that the nurse keeps them out longer than needed.

If we have the child leave the room, he knows something is up. We are talking about him.

But not sharing with him.

What could possibly be so bad that we won’t talk to him about it?

How do you feel when you suspect people are talking about you?

When people talk secretively it hurts.
When people talk secretively it hurts.

And we should always live by example.

I teach kids from early on that there should be no secrets in families.

Why then should parents and doctors keep things from the child?

That doesn’t mean kids need to know everything.

We all know that as adults that we do shield our kids from things.

Kids do not need to know our financial worries. We can teach them financial responsibility without increasing their anxieties.

They do not need the burden of knowing about extramarital affairs. If there are problems in a relationship, they will know there are problems, but they do not need to know details.

I don’t think that kids need to know everything, but that doesn’t mean that we should make it obvious that we’re hiding something. Especially when it pertains to them.

What does the child know?

Any patient needs to know what the issues are so they can be addressed. This includes most kids.

My guess is most of these kids already know what the concerns are.

They may need help working on the concern or help adjusting to the home life situation.

If they are overweight, we need to talk about what they eat, how they exercise, and how they sleep.

When there are behavior problems, they need to give insight into how they feel and what leads to the behaviors.

Regardless of the issue, they need to be a part of the plan to fix the problems. If they aren’t on board, they won’t change their habits. I can talk about weight (or behavior, or drugs, or whatever the concern is) sensitively and in an age appropriate manner with the child. The kids at school are likely talking about it in a not-so-sensitive manner, so it’s best to not make it worse by secretly discussing it.

What if it really needs to be said?

If a parent really wants to let a physician know specific points without the child present, there are ways to do that without making the child feel left out.

  • Send in a letter or secure electronic message with your concerns before the appointment. Be sure it’s at least a few days before the appointment so the doctor has a chance to review it!
  • Schedule a consult appointment for just parents to come in without the child.
  • Call in advance to note your concerns so the physician can address it as needed during the visit.
  • Slip a note in with all the paperwork you’re turning in during check in so the physician can read it before coming into the room. Be sure whoever you give it to realizes it’s included with the standard paperwork so they can pass it on.
  • Don’t bring siblings to an appointment where you want to discuss a private matter with your child.
All of these help the physician know your concerns without blatantly kicking a child out to talk about something privately.

Your child will appreciate it.