Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Common Childhood Illnesses

By Brandi M. Seals

It can seem like children are constantly getting sick. That's because they are. Their immune systems are not that of a fully developed adult so they are more susceptible to picking something up. Plus, kids touch everything, including germs and are repeatedly exposed to illness at preschool or in the classroom. So it is no surprise they come down with an illness more often than adults do.

There are a number of common childhood illnesses that make the rounds. Usually it is just a cold or the flu, but there are other illnesses you should be on the look out for.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes a lower respiratory infection in children and infants. The virus is most active during the months of November through April and it can get serious. Approximately 90,000 children are hospitalized each year in the United States due to RSV illnesses. Of that, 2 percent die.

All children will likely get RSV at some point. Usually it shows as little more than a cold. Common symptoms include a low-grade fever, runny nose and other cold symptoms.

The virus spreads quickly from person to person. To help reduce the risk of RSV, practice proper hygiene. Wash hands frequently with warm water and soap. Avoid going into public when you have a cold. And, try to avoid crowded places.

Ear Infections
Almost half of all children will have a middle-ear infection during their first year and by age three; two-thirds of all children will have had a middle-ear infection.

Bacteria build up in the middle ear is the culprit. The bacteria come in from the nose or throat and multiply in the ear. Fever usually occurs, pus accumulates and pressure builds up causing pain. If your child has nasal congestion, cough and conjunctivitis keep an eye out for ear infection. These symptoms often precede ear infections.

Symptoms of ear infections include ear pain, fever, irritability or dizziness.

Use acetaminophen to provide temporary pain and fever relief until you can see a doctor.

Some children will have reoccurring middle-ear infections. They generally have an abnormal Eustachian tube (the passage between the throat and the middle ear). Usually these abnormalities are temporary and resolve themselves. In other cases, surgery may be required to insert drainage tubes into the ears.

Chicken Pox
Chicken pox is one of the most common infectious diseases probably because it is so easy to catch. Nearly 95% of people will be affected by chicken pox before they reach adulthood. Each year nearly four million people in the United States contract Chicken Pox. They are generally preschool and school age children.

Chicken pox is an itchy rash that forms blisters that dry and become scabs in 4-5 days. The rash is sometimes coupled with fever and malaise.

Chicken pox is contagious during the 1 to 2 days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs. Chicken pox develops within 10 to 21 days of contact with an infected person.

In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration licensed a Chicken Pox vaccine. The vaccine is recommended for children over 12 months of age who have not had chicken pox.

Pink Eye
Pink eye is also called conjunctivitis and is very common in children. Pink eye causes an inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and can be the result of allergies, viruses, or bacteria.

Pink eye causes the whites of the eye to appear red or pink and is accompanied by itching, and/or burning and a discharge.

If your child gets pink eye, make sure he washes his hands and face frequently to avoid spreading the infection to others. Also, while the infection is present, pillows, washcloths, and towels should not be shared with the rest of the family.

Pink eye usually will disappear on its own after a week, but it can also be treated with antibiotics. Your pediatrician may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or eye drops to clear up the infection and provide relief. Do not use over-the-counter eye drops to treat pink eye without consulting your pediatrician. These drops may mask the symptoms of an infection.

If your child has pink eye that includes a white or yellow discharge, he should not go to school or daycare until the infection has been treated with antibiotics for at least 24 hours. If the discharge is watery, there is no need to keep your child home.

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