Don’t withhold recess!!!

I’m amazed at the number of parents who tell me that their child misses recess to finish homework or as a consequence for inappropriate behavior. It seems counterintuitive to restrict play when kids are unfocused or behaving out of line. We now have a lot of research on how kids with ADHD don’t respond to typical behavioral modifications. It’s not really a choice for them to do the behaviors they’re doing, so trying to offer recess as a reward just doesn’t work. With all this accumulated research, it’s surprising that some schools and teachers continue to support restricting recess.

Today’s blog is from Chris Dendy, an expert on ADHD. She is an acclaimed author and speaker. Chris has worked as a classroom teacher, school psychologist and mental health counselor. She’s worked as local and state level mental health administrator, has been a lobbyist and has served as executive director of a statewide mental health advocacy organization and as a national mental health consultant on children’s issues. Her Facebook post below shows the importance of recess.

I have edited her original post to make headlines more visible, but I did not change the content at all. See her original post linked at the bottom of this page.

BOTH AAP & CDC STRESS THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY

EVERYONE SUFFERS WHEN YOU WITHHOLD RECESS:

When recess is withheld as a punishment for misbehavior or incomplete academic work, both teachers and children suffer. Teachers who know their research never withhold recess and here’s one key reason why:
“misbehavior is higher on days when children with ADHD don’t have recess.”

CHILDREN’S BRAINS WORK BETTER AFTER EXERCISE:

After exercising, students show improved attention, retention of information, working memory, mood and social skills. School officials also report a reduction in school suspensions. Students with better fitness levels earn higher scores on academic achievement tests.

EXERCISE GROWS NEW BRAIN CELLS:

Interestingly, John Ratey, M.D. a well-known psychiatrist, describes exercise as “Miracle-gro” for the brain because it actually builds new neurotransmitters and increases blood flow to the brain. The author of How the Brain Learns, Dr. David Sousa, explains that “down time” is needed to allow the brain to recharge and process new information. Recess provides this much needed recharging time.

IF A STUDENT IS CONSTANTLY MISSING RECESS, LOOK FOR UNIDENTIFIED LEARNING PROBLEMS:

One of the most common reasons for keeping students in during recess is to complete unfinished work. Instead of withholding this important activity, educators must determine the underlying reason for the failure to finish the classwork and implement a preventive strategy: utilize positive interventions instead of punishment!

For example, the culprit may be deficits in executive skills including inattention, difficulty getting started, or slow processing speed. Secondly, many students with ADHD have trouble getting started on their work and must be given an external prompt to start working. Finally, twenty-eight percent of children with ADD inattentive have slow processing speed. Children who struggle with this slow processing should be provided shorter assignments and/or extended time.

Unfortunately, researchers report that many of our children are on doses of medication that are too low for peak academic performance. Even though they are on medication, students with low medication doses will have problems paying attention and working efficiently. Teacher rating scales of classroom performance are available that reflect how well medication is working.

INCREASE MOVEMENT THROUGH “IN-HOUSE FIELD TRIPS:

Veteran teacher Jackie Minniti, suggests giving “in-house field trips” to allow increased movement and subsequent increased blood flow to the brain: for instance, give out supplies, close the door, take a note to the teacher across the hall that simply says, “Hi”, and then the student returns to his class. Doing jumping jacks or dancing to music in the classroom can be very helpful. Minniti’s positive incentives include rewarding timely work completion with five minutes extra recess time or giving stars on a chart toward a class pizza party.

FIND VOICE OF REASON AT SCHOOL OR ASK YOUR DOCTOR OR PSYCHOLOGIST TO WRITE A STATEMENT SAYING RECESS SHOULD NOT BE WITHHELD.

If you have a reasonable teacher, talk with her about trying these positive intervention strategies first instead of punishment. If you think the teacher will not be receptive to your suggestions, then consider getting a note from your physician stating that your child must have recess each day. The next step will be to ask that deficits in executive skills and the need for recess be addressed in an IEP or Section 504 plan. If the teacher fails to comply with these requirements in the IEP, you will have to approach the guidance counselor, special education coordinator, or principal for assistance.

THE CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL (CDC) STATES THAT RECESS SHOULD NOT BE WITHHELD AS PUNISHMENT:

Because of growing concerns about obesity and other chronic diseases, Congress passed the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” in 2010 that resulted in the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta developing guidelines in several areas including recess.
Each local school system that has a National School Lunch Program must develop a school wellness policy to address Congressional concerns. The CDC expressly states, “Schools should not use physical activity as punishment or withhold opportunities for physical activity as a form of punishment.” Exclusion from recess for bad behavior in a classroom (including incomplete academic work) “deprives students of physical activity experiences that benefit health and can contribute toward improved behavior in the classroom.”

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS (AAP) STATES UNSTRUCTURED FREE PLAY IS CRITICAL:

Here are highlights adapted from their policy statement.

1. Eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement. Recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance.
2. Creative supporting free play as a fundamental component of a child’s
normal growth and development.
3. Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social,
emotional, physical, and cognitive development.
4. Recess may help provide the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day to fight against obesity.
5. Recess offers the opportunity to build lifelong skills required for communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving.

Updated from Dr. Dendy’s original article published in ADDitude magazine.

For more information:

From the AAP: The Crucial Role of Recess in School

Why Wait to See Your Regular Doctor?

Why should you wait to see your regular doctor? The benefits of using your regular doctor’s office to see your PCP or another provider with access to your child’s medical record are many. I previously wrote several tips about how to use an urgent care wisely, but I wanted to spend more time on the benefits of going to your own doctor rather than an independent walk in clinic in more detail, so removed that portion of the post.

Almost as promised, here it is. The almost is that I promised to post this the next week, but a few other topics interrupted the posting schedule. Better late than never!

There is more to this than could be covered in one post, so this is Part 2. It covers the benefits of seeing someone in your regular doctor’s office. Part 3 will cover some of the problems with seeing someone in an independent urgent care.

Your primary care office knows you

Humans benefit from relationships in many ways. When you see the same people over and over, familiarity brings comfort. This can be the same face at the reception desk, the same nurses, or the same physician. Even if the faces change from time to time, the overall clinic’s familiarity can bring comfort in a time of significant illness or disease. When you have something difficult to talk about, it’s easier with someone you’ve built a trusting relationship.

Consider teens…

Think of tweens and teens who need an adult to ask for advice.

If they do not have a medical home where they feel welcome, they are less likely to talk about their problems.

As much as we’d all like to think that our kids will talk to us, they aren’t always comfortable with that. I’ve had kids ask parents to leave to talk about so many issues. Some of their “confidential questions” may seem silly to not talk about with a parent, such as how to use deodorant or how to shave, but it happens. Some are really troubling things, such as suicidal thoughts or abusive relationships.

These need to be discussed with a responsible adult, not another tween or teen, so I’m happy when they are comfortable talking to me.

If they’ve come to the same place year after year for illnesses, injuries, and yearly well visits, they will feel more comfortable.

Even different faces in the same practice offers some consistency

Even if you see different physicians, NPs, or PAs from time to time or go to a satellite office, there is still continuity within that practice.

The medical record has your child’s immunization history, previous drug reactions, any underlying illnesses or frequency of illnesses, as well as any other pertinent information. As long as you use that clinic for most medical care. The more often you use outside clinics, the less comprehensive the medical record becomes.

Primary Care Providers (PCPs) and their staff also know your family and that alone can help!

Business of medicine

Talking about the business of medicine might seem self-serving, and it is, but think about keeping your favorite physician in business. The reality is many private clinics are selling out (or just joining) larger health systems. This raises healthcare costs, increases administrative burdens, and diminishes the personal touch of healthcare.

I hate thinking about business and insurance issues, but as a business owner, I must.

I have two big regrets from my student days.

The first is that I wish I studied abroad because once work and family life start, it’s too hard to take long trips.

The second is that I wish I took business classes to prepare myself for a career in medicine. Most medical students are so eager to learn the massive information about medicine, they forget that one day they might be a business owner.

Unfortunately the number of physicians who own their own practice is falling. I suspect that has a lot to do with physician burnout and the increasing suicide rate of physicians, but that’s another topic!

I’ve learned a lot of business along the way, in large part to SOAPM. Unfortunately not all physicians have learned about business. Life is busy and it’s hard to balance everything. We tend to already work long hours, so it’s hard to fit one more thing in at the end of the day. I think medicine is in the state it’s in now because healthcare has been led by non-clinical business people who might understand business, but have no idea how it impacts the health of people.

Care outside your primary office (Medical Home)

Now that many routine visits are going to outside providers, family physicians and pediatricians are struggling to stay in business.

We still see our patients for illnesses, but they tend to be more chronic issues.

Daily headaches for the past 6 months takes a lot more time in the office than an earache that started this morning. We can’t see as many chronic issues as acute illnesses, so the amount of money we bring into the office is down due to less volume.

The costs of rent, insurance, staff salaries, and more doesn’t go down, so covering those costs becomes difficult.

Urgent care from a business perspective

Routine sick visits are quick and easy.

They’re the bread and butter of primary care offices.

That’s why urgent care centers are popping up in pharmacies and on every other corner. They are short visits, but insurance companies pay well for them. Because they’re short, many can be done in a standard shift. This brings in easy money to a clinic.

Chronic issues, mental and behavioral health, and other issues not typically seen in urgent cares take more time.

If a patient with symptoms more than what can be handled in an urgent care shows up, they are quickly assessed, offered a token treatment and told to follow up with their doctor. Or they’re simply told to go to the ER. Urgent cares don’t waste time on big issues.

The impact urgent care use has on a PCP schedule

You wouldn’t think at first of all the trickle down effects that going elsewhere for care has on your primary doctor’s life.

Remember that if we’re not seeing patients, we aren’t brining money into the practice. The money doesn’t directly line our pockets – it’s needed to pay essential bills. We have to fill our day with patients one way or another.

Well visits and short vs long sick visits

Many doctor’s offices differentiate sick and well slots in their appointment schedule. This allows us to see a balance of well visits for routine care as well as to save time for sick kids and those with chronic issues. Many of us have short and long visit slots to account for the amount of time typically needed for each visit concern.

The more patients go to urgent cares for quick visits, the fewer same day short sick visit slots are needed in PCP schedules. This means we must adjust our schedules to have more well visit and longer chronic issue slots so we’re not sitting around doing nothing.

Schedules of today look and feel different

Since we have less need for short acute visits, we fill those with longer chronic issue visits and well visits. Both of these tend to fill in advance, unlike short acute visits that tend to be needed on the same day.

Some days that means my patients who want to see me are told I have no availability. They can still be seen in my office’s walk in clinic, but they can’t schedule with me.  I’d like to be able to see my patients when they want to be seen, but supply and demand ring true.

Unfortunately, these longer visits are relative money losers and they can be more emotionally draining for the physician due to the chronic nature of the conditions seen. Some days I wish to be able to see a straight forward earache or sore throat….

How much is a visit worth?

We use a billing system that identifies an office visit by complexity and time. This is set by regulations, not your doctor’s office -unless they’re a concierge cash based practice.

A typical sick visit that lasts about 10- 15 minutes is considered a 99213, which is valued at about $74. So two sick visits is therefore worth about $148.

If a visit is over 25 minutes or complex, it is considered a 99214, which is valued at $109. We therefore lose nearly $40 for every prolonged visit because we spend more time. If we saw two different patients in that same time, we’d bring more money into the practice.

Once in awhile this isn’t a big deal, but as more people go to urgent cares for routine illnesses, PCPs are left with mostly complex visits. This hurts the bottom line and is emotionally more draining for the physician. It’s hard to deal with serious issues all day long.

This isn’t about being greedy.

If I was in it for the money, I wouldn’t have picked pediatrics after medical school.

Pediatricians are consistently some of the lowest paid physicians.

I chose pediatrics because I love it. But I still have to pay the bills at the end of the day. We have to pay office rent (or mortgage), malpractice insurance, insurance on our vaccine supply and other inventory, salaries for all staff, health insurance for staff, IT equipment and management, ect.

Just like any business, it takes money coming in to stay in business.

Changes to the value of a visit?

There’s a proposal to change the way office visits are paid by insurance companies.

This is a proposal to have insurance companies set the relative value for each visit at the same payment rate. This means if you’re seen for 5 minutes the doctor gets paid the same as if they spend 45 minutes with you.

I see this being very detrimental for pediatric care because it will encourage many quick visits instead of a comprehensive visit. But if we spend too long with a patient, we can’t earn enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month, so it will be necessary to make visits short to be able to see enough patients at the end of the day to cover costs.

I worry that people will gloss over issues that need more time. Abdominal pain is commonly constipation, but can be many things. We just won’t have time to talk it all through in one short visit.

This is a proposal that will benefit the independent walk in clinics that tend to see many earaches, coughs, rashes, and other quick issues. It will not be good for those of us who manage a lot of mental and behavioral health.

Or our patients.

Free advice is bad for business

It gets worse. Pediatricians give away advice for free all the time.

People call us to ask how to manage symptoms and conditions throughout the day and night. Most of these calls are done for free, yet we pay for staff to take them.

Often parents call and we give advice on how to manage symptoms before following up in the office during business hours. It isn’t uncommon to learn that parents took their child to a late night urgent care instead of waiting.

Parents often call asking if the care given elsewhere is appropriate or if we can we write a school excuse or refill medications when we never even saw the child for the issue.

We can’t manage what we didn’t see.

If you bring your business elsewhere, only go where you trust that the provider has experience with children and can handle your child’s symptoms. When you have questions about their treatment plan, ask them. If you need a school or work excuse, ask them for it.

You’d never buy a Kia and then ask Toyota for parts or free repairs. You return to the original dealer, right? (I chose these brands because they’re the two in my garage now. I have nothing against either, but they’re different.)

Urgent cares don’t give away anything for free.

Stand alone urgent cares don’t cover questions 24/7.

Primary care offices are required to offer 24/7 phone availability. Either they staff it themselves or they pay someone else to do it.

This is just one more way that urgent cares have the business advantage. They don’t have this monetary cost or quality of life issue.

All these calls hurt a medical home’s bottom line because we’re paying our staff to talk to families – often back and forth calls. It’s a considerable amount of time. Time for a service that brings in no money, but we still must pay staff to do it.

Physician burnout

You might wonder what physician burnout has to do with a person choosing to go to an outside urgent care or their physician’s office.

A lot really.

There’s of course a financial loss when people go elsewhere, but it’s more than that.

As mentioned above, the more urgent cares are utilized, the more a PCP must handle more difficult chronic problems, which tend to be more emotionally draining.

PCPs now have to spend extensive time documenting review of outside provider notes. Insurance companies are setting many rules and protocols to reconcile charts and update the primary care record whenever our patients see other providers. In the paper chart days, I could quickly skim consultant notes, but now it takes a couple of hours per day of unpaid time to review them all.

Seriously. Hours. Every day.

I struggle to keep up. And I’m not alone.

New reports come in every day – even when we’re off.

I’m guilty of logging in even when I’m on vacation. This is not healthy for me mentally. I know that. It’s bad for what should be my personal and family time. It’s just easier to me though to spend this time logging in so I can “do a few charts” to keep me from being overwhelmed when I’m back to work. There’s no time to catch up when I have to see patients all day and continue to get new charts to review each day.

Our physicians try to help others out when we’re on vacation, but many charts really should be seen by the PCP, not the partner.

Every day I go to work before seeing patients and stay a couple hours after I’m finished seeing patients. I review charts as I eat lunch unless I have a meeting so I can get home to my family a little earlier each day.

Charting does not bring satisfaction.

One of the benefits of working in healthcare is the satisfaction of knowing that we help others. All the years in training. The sleepless nights. Missed kids activities. All of this is worth it when we feel like we make a difference in someone’s life.

Reviewing charts does not help me feel like I am taking good care of patients. It does update me on what’s going on with them, but it isn’t fulfilling like when I see a patient and help them.

There are so many clicks to review one chart and update it as expected – reconciling mediation lists, updating hospitalizations or the injury list, and more. It’s difficult to keep up.

If most care is done in the medical home, the chart is updated at the time of the visit and these chart reviews would be less. Sometimes it is not advisable to stay within the medical home. There are true emergencies and times that specialists should get involved. These are unavoidable and necessary.

Most urgent care trips are not really urgent. They break the medical home concept for convenience.

No wonder there’s so much physician burnout these days.

Not only do we need to see more difficult or chronically sick patients because the quick acute care illnesses go elsewhere, but we also must review their notes and incorporate them into the patient chart for zero reimbursement.

That’s asking for burnout!

Use the Medical Home

What can you do to help your physician avoid burnout and stay in business?

Be seen by them whenever possible. Let them see the volume of patients they need to see to cover costs. Use them for quick sick visits as well as routine physicals and following up of chronic issues. Avoid going elsewhere unless it’s really needed.

The reality is that many private practice physicians are selling out to (or simply joining) big corporations because they can’t make ends meet.

I’ve heard their patients complain about the loss of personalized service and added costs.

Please consider the long term effects when you use outside services.

What keeps patients in the medical home?

There are many things that have been tried to allow people to be seen in their medical home. Not all work.

Sometimes people just think another location is more convenient. I know this because I get reports from urgent cares that saw a patient of mine when we were open. Instead of calling for an appointment or coming to my office’s walk in, which is available all hours that we’re open, they go elsewhere.

Extended hours

I’ve heard time and time again from patients, other physicians, and medical administration types that extending hours is important to private practice.

Even this can be a problem.

We see patients use outside urgent cares when we have regular business hours. Maybe a 5 minute shorter drive makes a difference?

My office even tried extending hours beyond our already generous regular hours. We were already open longer than standard business hours and our regular hours include walk in for patients all day every weekday and half days on Saturdays, but we stayed open even later for awhile.

Staying open later increased our expenses in staff salaries, but we found that people still went to other urgent care centers. We lost money at that time of day. People had asked for later hours, but then didn’t use them.

Walk in

One of the most complimented aspects of my office is the availability of our walk in clinic. Our patients can be seen in our office by one of our staff any time we’re open by simply walking in.

This has many of the benefits of being seen in the medical home while offering the flexibility of other urgent cares.

It still has the downside of not being able to see your PCP. You will see whoever is staffing the walk in clinic at that time, and of course this person can always consult with your PCP if needed.

It also has lead to the schedule changes noted above, since most people prefer this convenience. We now have relatively few short sick visit slots in the schedule. This can lead to less availability when there are a number of parents who prefer a scheduled appointment on the same day.

Phone calls

As mentioned above, PCPs must be available 24/7 by phone.

A phone call can be used by parents to keep their kids out of urgent cares and ERs. We can offer advice to get through the night (or until the office opens).

Follow the advice, and if your child needs to be seen, try to do it in the medical home. Of course if your child is in uncontrollable pain, is struggling to breathe, is dehydrated, or has other significant issues, he should be seen immediately.

Many offices, my own included, offer a ton of free advice on our websites. This has been debated from a business standpoint since it’s free advice. From a quality of life standpoint, the clinicians in my office like having things easily accessible for parents. When we give advice on the phone or during an office visit, much is forgotten. Having it easily accessible for parents to review is a great resource for them and helps to decrease the number of return calls for clarification. This also helps the physician’s quality of life.

Telehealth

There is a general push toward providing virtual visits through secure video conferencing. Even my insurance company keeps pushing me to register so that I can easily be “seen” when I’m sick. (I haven’t.)

I think this is a very dangerous slippery slope. Many sick people need to be examined to be able to properly diagnose things that require prescription treatments. Yet I know they are happy to call and get a prescription, so if it’s available they will use it.

Again, getting what you want is not always what you need.

I do see great potential for telehealth in the medical home and to improve access to specialists. It can be used to follow up on many issues in an appropriate way.

I worry that people will use it to get poor care for common acute sick issues. When your baby’s fussy or has a fever, you just want help, right? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should use it.

I strongly believe that we need guidelines to use this as a way to bring care to people when they could benefit from it. But telehealth should be restricted to only appropriate uses.

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

From Dr. Mick Connors in Contemporary Pediatrics: What happened to the pediatric medical home?

Flu Vaccine Season 2018-2019

Every year the flu vaccine season throws us something new and challenging. The buzz this year is pediatricians questioning what to recommend with the new version of FluMist.  So what’s new with the flu vaccine season 2018-2019?

If you tried to get a FluMist vaccine for the past couple of years, you know that it wasn’t available. It did not seem to be effective, so it was removed from use. It has been reconfigured to improve the efficacy. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is allowing it to be re-released for the 2018-2019 season.

There are many versions of the flu shot. Some contain 3 strains of flu protection, others have 4 strains. Use of each is dependent on age and other factors. There is only one version of nasal spray flu vaccine, the FluMist.

Flu Vaccine Season 2018- 2019 ACIP Recommendations:

  • Everyone over 6 months of age who does not have a contraindication to vaccination should get a flu vaccine.
  • No preference is given for one vaccine product over another, as long as it is age appropriate and there are no contraindications. (See Controversy for details on this.)
  • Children under 10 years of age who have never had a flu vaccine should get two doses this year.
  • If vaccine supply is limited, high risk people should get priority. This includes:
  •      children 6-59 months
  •      adults over 50 years
  •      those with chronic diseases
  •      immunocompromised persons
  •      pregnant women
  •      American Indians and Alaska Natives
  •      morbidly obese people
  •      residents of long term care facilities

For the full report of recommendations, see MMWR: Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season.

The big questions that may be on your mind:

1. When’s the best time to get a flu vaccine?

The CDC recommends starting to vaccinate as soon as it’s available (usually August or September) and to have the vaccine given by Halloween.

It’s not hard to see the logistical problems of vaccinating essentially everyone in the two months of September and October.

Some of the problems getting masses vaccinated:
  • Getting the vaccine itself. Recently flu shots have started to be delivered around the country. They seemed to show up first at big chain pharmacies before doctor’s offices. There aren’t any shortages this year so far, but not everyone can get all their vaccine orders at once.
  • The FluMist hasn’t been approved for shipping yet, so no one has that at this time. If you’re hoping to get it, you’ll have to wait. No approval date has been announced as far as I know.
  • I’ve heard that some Vaccine For Children (VFC) programs haven’t even opened up their ordering for the year. (Most flu vaccines are ordered in January or February for the next vaccine season, but VFC programs are state run and vary in rules.) If your child will require a VFC vaccine, you will likely have to wait until your clinic has them in stock, even if they have other flu vaccines.
  • Many years there are shortages. Those are hard to anticipate, but are another reason not to turn down a vaccine if it’s offered.
  • Having extra personnel skilled in giving flu vaccines available is difficult when they’re needed to perform typical work. Giving vaccines takes time. There’s a lot behind the scenes that needs to be done and documented in addition to the time of getting people prepared for the shot itself. And we all have seen the kids who put up a good fight, which means the nurse can’t quickly give the shot.
  • There are always time conflicts getting to a place that offers flu shots.  Work, school and activity schedules are busy. It can be hard getting everyone in the family to a place that has the right vaccine for each person at a time that you’re not busy.
What if you aren’t vaccinated by Halloween?

There will be many who continue to be vaccinated in November and beyond. It is recommended to continue vaccinating until the vaccine supply is gone or the season ends. The flu season can possibly last through May in the Northern Hemisphere.

Will an early flu vaccine last long enough?

I’m asked this question often. I’ve been told by several parents that they want to wait to get the shot for their family until October to optimize the protection during flu season.

While this sounds good in theory, I’m afraid that some of these people may miss the opportunity to be vaccinated before the flu hits.

Although we say that it tends to hit in January in my area, it can hit at any time. I’ve already heard of one case of Flu A in another local pediatric practice.

All vaccines take time to become effective, so waiting until you hear that it’s in the community is already too late in some respects. We often have more than one peak of flu activity each year, so still get the vaccine!

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine does decrease over time, but it’s estimated to last about 6 months. Unfortunately our season can last up to 8 months, so there is no perfect time.

What if we got our flu shot later in the season last year? Is it still good?

Each year the strains in the flu vaccines are updated to reflect the anticipated strains of influenza that will circulate. It’s important to get a new flu vaccine each season. Even if your child got a flu shot in May 2018, he should get another this Fall or Winter.

Who needs a second vaccine?

It is not recommended to get a second flu shot later in the season for most people.

Children under 9 years of age getting vaccinated for the first time need their primer dose and a booster dose at least 4 weeks later. Children who have previously received ≥2 total doses of influenza vaccine at least 4 weeks apart before July 1, 2018, require only one dose for 2018–19. The 2 doses of influenza vaccine do not have to have been administered in the same season or consecutive seasons. If they had only 1 flu vaccine before July 1, 2018, they need 2 doses this season.

number of flu vaccines needed
Grohskopf LA, Sokolow LZ, Broder KR, Walter EB, Fry AM, Jernigan DB. Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season. MMWR Recomm Rep 2018;67(No. RR-3):1–20. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.rr6703a1

2. Will FluMist work?

Unfortunately, we won’t really know until the season is well underway. Every year we must wait to learn if the flu vaccine is effective. The effectiveness varies from year to year.

FluMist History

The FluMist was first approved in 2003. It was a welcome addition to the flu vaccine lineup because there are no needles needed. It seemed to be very effective initially. In 2014, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) even gave it preferential status because it seemed to be more effective than the flu shot version.

The very next year ACIP reversed its decision due to very poor performance of the H1N1 strain in the FluMist in the United States. (This didn’t seem to be a problem everywhere.) FluMist was removed from the market for two years as scientists tried to figure out why it didn’t work well so they could remedy the problem.

This Year’s FluMist

Testing of the new version shows that the new H1N1 LAIV strain (A/Slovenia) performed significantly better than the 2015-16 strain (A/Bolivia).  Does this mean that it will perform better this season? We really don’t know, but in February 2018, ACIP voted to bring back the newly formulated FluMist for the 2018-2019 season.

In years past it was recommended for anyone who had received the FluMist to avoid contact with immunocompromised people for 7 days. It is no longer considered to be a risk to most immunocompromised people to be around a recently vaccinated person. If the immunocompromised state is severe enough to require a protected environment, avoidance for 7 days after FluMist continues to be recommended.

Controversy

While most of the experts on the ACIP panel voted in favor to bring the FluMist back based on the study results, some members were not in agreement. They still worry that the FluMist may not perform well to during the flu season.

The CDC official position states no preference between the FluMist and the shot version, as long as the vaccine is age appropriate and there are no contraindications, such as allergy or chronic disease. The shot is available for all ages over 6 months old, but the FluMist is only for 2 – 49 year olds.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) stance on the FluMist is that it should only be used when the shot version is refused or unavailable. They will continually monitor the flu vaccine effectiveness patterns and may change their recommendation. If your child is worried about giving the shot, check out ways to make shots less scary.

Interestingly, Dr. Paul Offit, one of our country’s leading vaccine experts, disagrees with the AAP.

So I think the AAP was wrong, frankly, to say that FluMist should only be used as a last-resort vaccine for influenza. Rather, they should have gone along with what the ACIP said, which was that these vaccines can now be used interchangeably for persons aged 2-49 years. ~ Dr. Paul Offit

3. What about egg allergy?

For several years now egg allergy is not considered a contraindication to flu vaccines. Despite this, people still think they cannot be vaccinated due to an allergy.

Severe allergic reactions to vaccines, although rare, can occur at any time, even in without a history of previous allergic reaction. The person giving flu vaccines should be able to identify and equipped to handle any allergic reaction.

Different influenza vaccines contain different amounts of egg components, so it is important to discuss the history of egg allergy with the person who will give the flu vaccine.

Recommendations for those with egg allergy:
  • People with a history of egg allergy who have only had hives after exposure to egg should receive influenza vaccine. Any version that is age appropriate can be used.
  • People who have required epinephrine after eating egg or who have had angioedema, respiratory distress, lightheadedness, or recurrent vomiting are considered higher risk with influenza vaccination. They still may receive an age appropriate influenza vaccine, but it should be done in a health care setting, such as a medical clinic or hospital. They should not get the vaccine at a community drive, such as in a school or church setting. Vaccine administration should be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.
  • A previous severe allergic reaction to influenza vaccine, regardless of the component suspected of being responsible for the reaction, is a contraindication to vaccinating with that vaccine in the future. This does not include the typical reactions of redness at the injection site, fever, or muscle aches.
  • No observation period is recommended specifically for egg-allergic people. If there is concern, a 15 minute observation period after any vaccine can be done. This is commonly done in the adolescent age group due to their high risk for passing out after any needle – shots or blood draws.

4. What if you’re traveling internationally?

Influenza season varies by location. In the US, we tend to think of it as a winter thing, but it can happen during our summer months elsewhere. Flu is seen in the fall and spring in addition to the winter months in Kansas.

In the Northern Hemisphere it tends to hit between October and May. The Southern Hemisphere’s season tends to be April through September.

Even the types of influenza that circulates can vary by location. These types affect the type of vaccine that is used in that location.

It’s recommended to be vaccinated against influenza at least 2 weeks before traveling to any location during their flu season. This can be difficult if there is not any flu vaccine in your area. It can also be difficult to find the correct strains of flu vaccine in your location.

Talk to your physician or a travel clinic to see what is needed and available.

5. Doesn’t the flu shot cause the flu?

No. No it doesn’t.

Flu is a very dangerous illness that results in many people requiring hospitalization. Each year previously healthy children and adults die from influenza.

The symptoms people get after flu shots often could be explained by many viruses. They are not the flu. If they really are flu symptoms, it is because the vaccine didn’t have time to take effect or it was a strain not included in the vaccine.

There is no plausible way that the injectable flu vaccine can cause the flu. There is no live virus in the injectable vaccine that can lead to flu disease. Injectable flu vaccines are made in two ways. Either the vaccine is made with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are not infectious or with no flu vaccine viruses at all.

The most common side effects from the influenza shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur, but interestingly these same symptoms occur with placebo shots too.

How do we know it doesn’t cause illness?

Studies like this one in adults have compared side effects of a flu shot to side effects of a placebo with saline (salt water). The only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat. These all can occur during the time frame that the flu vaccine is typically recommended. It’s just a coincidence if you “get sick” after getting the vaccine.

Studies in children are lacking. Ethically it is difficult to study this, since it would require not giving some children a potentially life saving vaccine if they receive the placebo.

What about the FluMist?

The FluMist is a live virus. It can cause congestion and symptoms like a very mild case of the flu.

FluMist can cause mild illness, but it prevents (or hopefully will prevent) significant flu disease symptoms.

6. What if you get the flu?

I’ll write separately about how to treat the flu and flu-like symptoms.

You can guess what it will say based on what I’ve written previously about fever being scary, how to treat coughs, and Tamiflu.

7. Why bother, since the flu shot isn’t effective.

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine is never perfect, but it’s better than nothing. For more on this, see The flu shot doesn’t work.

What's new for the flu vaccine season 2018-2019? Should we use the shot or nosespray?
This Flat Stanley spent time in our office one flu vaccine season. Given the paucity of good stock photos of people getting vaccines, I chose this one to highlight the point of few photo choices. And I think it’s fun.

New Car Safety Guidelines 2018

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.

potential problem with following the guidelines

  • If your child suffers from motion sickness (car sickness) when rear facing, talk to your pediatrician.
  • Kids will resist many things, including properly buckling up. It is worth it to insist that they’re safe. Try various parenting strategies.
          ~Model safe behavior by talking about what you’re doing as you buckle (since they can’t see you when they’re rear facing).

~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 the 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?

 

 

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

 

Summer Penile Syndrome

Did you know there’s a name for the super swollen male parts from bug bites? Actually two names: Summer Penile Syndrome and Lion Mane’s Penis. Doctors might even call it seasonal acute hypersensitivity reaction. If you’ve ever seen it, you know it can be quite impressive.

What is summer penile syndrome?

Summer penile syndrome is a fairly common concern during the summer months. It’s usually due to a chigger bite on the sensitive skin of the penis or scrotum. You can often find a small bug bite near the center of the swelling.

They can itch like crazy, but usually don’t interfere with urinating.

Despite the significant swelling, there isn’t usually much pain, only itching. Unless there’s a secondary infection, there won’t be any fever.

What is a chigger?

Chiggers are a type of mite, which is an arachnid in the same family as spiders and ticks. They are also called harvest mites, harvest bugs, harvest lice, mower’s mites, or red bugs. Chiggers are so small they often go unnoticed until several hours after they attach to our skin. They can attach even under clothing, and the most common places that we notice chigger bites are in the areas of our pants.

Chiggers live in moist, grassy and wooded areas. They are commonly found in the warm summer months.

Adult chiggers don’t bite. It’s the larvae that cause itchy problems. The larvae are red, orange, yellow, or straw-colored, and no more than 0.3 millimeters long.

File-Chigger bite
Chigger. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:File-Chigger_bite.svg 
After crawling onto the skin, the larvae inject digestive enzymes into the skin that break down skin cells. They do not actually bite the host even though the bumps are called chigger bites. They form a hole in the skin called a stylostome. Their saliva goes into deep skin layers, which results in severe irritation and swelling.

People usually start to itch within a few hours and often scratch the feeding chiggers away. A hot shower with plenty of soap will kill chiggers and prevent them from finishing their meal, so showering after being in grassy or wooded areas can help prevent deeper reactions.

The good news is that in the US, chiggers are not known to carry diseases.

Prevention

Even though they don’t cause disease, chigger bites are something to avoid because they can cause significant itching for weeks.

Bug sprays with DEET will deter the chiggers. DEET is approved for use in children over 2 months of age.

Clothing can be treated with permethrin to avoid ticks and chiggers. Permethrin can be purchased at sporting goods stores to pre-treat your clothing. It should not be used directly on skin. Once dried into the clothing, permethrin will last for about six washings. You can also treat your shoes, which makes a lot of sense since chiggers are usually found in the grass and crawl up onto your skin.

Even untreated clothing can help a little if you don’t have time to pre-treat with permethrin. Wear long sleeves and long pants. Be sure to tuck the pant legs into your socks so they can’t enter from the bottom leg hole.

For more on bug sprays, including citronella, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and more, see the EPAs information on registered and unregistered products. You can even use this handy tool to find the right product for your needs.

How do you treat chigger bites?

Much like any bug bite, control of the itch is important. If kids scratch any itch, it can become secondarily infected from the break in the skin allowing germs in.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are used for allergic reactions. We commonly use them for seasonal allergies, but they can help most allergy reactions.

Bug bites itch when our bodies react to the saliva injected into our skin with histamine. Histamine is our body’s allergic response and it itches. If you aren’t allergic to the bite, you won’t itch from it. This is the way we react to allergies, which is why we get itchy eyes and noses with allergies to pollen.

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a short acting antihistamine that can help control allergic reactions, but tends to make kids tired or wired. It also only lasts a few hours, which can require frequent dosing.

I don’t like topical antihistamines, which are often sold to treat bug bites. I worry that kids will get too much of the medicine when it is applied to each bite. It’s a low risk, but still a risk. Just because they aren’t taking it by mouth doesn’t mean it isn’t absorbed. Children using a topical antihistamine for an extended time over large areas of the skin (especially areas with broken skin) may be at higher risk, especially if they also are using other diphenhydramine products taken by mouth or applied to the skin.

I am a fan of using an oral long-acting antihistamine, such as cetirizine or loratadine, to treat bug bites. Most kids with one bug bite have many. One dose of an oral antihistamine helps to control the overall histamine reaction, making each bite itch less.

Antibiotics

Despite the significant swelling, these usually do not require prescription antibiotics.

If your child has open areas from scratching the skin, you should keep the area clean and consider using a topical antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection.

Steroids

Over the counter topical hydrocortisone is a very low dose steroid. It can be used on insect bites to help stop the itch.

Stronger steroids that require prescriptions are occasionally used, but you will need to see your physician to discuss the risks and benefits of prescription steroids.

Oatmeal baths

Soaking in an oatmeal bath might help the itching. It works very well for dry skin conditions and sunburn relief as well.

You can buy commercially made oatmeal bath products or you can grind regular plain oats to make it fine enough that it dissolves in bath water. Test a small amount in a cup of water to see if it’s finely ground enough before putting 1 cup of oats into the bath water.

Some people have even made a paste of oats and applied it directly to the itchy skin for relief.

Baking soda

Another kitchen remedy for bug bite itch relief is baking soda. Mix a pinch of baking soda with a few drops of water to make a paste. Put this paste on the bites. Reapply as needed.

Ice or cool cloth

One more kitchen treatment is ice. Many kids won’t tolerate this one, but if they can’t tolerate an ice pack placed over clothing, you can try applying a cool wet washcloth directly to the skin.

When should you see your doctor?

If your child has any of the following symptoms, talk with your doctor.

  • Trouble urinating.
  • Pain or itch not controlled with the above measures.
  • Fever.
Fear has big eyes
By Robbie Grubbs from Houston (What????) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons