When your child is sick it puts a massive strain on the family. Not only are they contagious and it sometimes goes through the entire family, they are feeling miserable and you simply have to stay home to nurse them back to health. But how bad is it? Is it a simple cold or something worse? How long can they have gastro before it becomes serious? Is that rash an allergy or chicken pox? How long are they contagious for? Here are some tips for common illnesses in school age children, how to care for them and what to expect before calling the doctor.
Common Cold Children get colds all through the year but especially in the colder months and change of season because cold air and air conditioning/heating systems dry out the nasal passages, making it possible for viruses to thrive and be caught more easily from other people.
Symptoms - A runny nose, coughing and/or congestion. These can be a dry cough or developing into a chesty cough.
Duration - Colds can last up to 7-14 days just as a cold but be weary they can develop into the flu, ear or upper respiratory tract infection. In severe cases it could even develop into pneumonia.
Treatment - You can ease your child’s discomfort by using children's pain relief for aches and fever, as well as general cough medicines/lozenges to help the throat and chest. But the best thing to do is let them get a lot of rest and keep up their fluids. Using a humidifier to keep the air moist and elevate their head when laying down are also very useful.
Conjunctivitis A nasty eye infection that can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even allergies. This is spread by skin to skin contact.
Symptoms - Redness, itchiness and a gritty, uncomfortable feeling in one or both eyes, as well as a discharge that can form a crust during the night making it difficult to open the eyes in the morning. Other symptoms can also include excessive tears, swelling of the eyelids and sensitivity to light, especially bright sunlight.
Duration - Conjunctivitis takes 1-2 weeks to go away on its own.
Treatment - Eyedrops can help relieve itchiness and redness after cleaning the eye but because of the different causes of conjunctivitis (bacterial/viral/allergy) it is best to visit a doctor to determine which type your child has and get the proper treatment for it.
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Gastroenteritis Gastro is probably the worst and most common intestinal infections which is caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite. The germs that cause gastro can be found in food, water, soils, animals and humans. While people often assume that it is food poisoning from the last meal they ate, it will most often be from something they ate a couple of days ago or coming into contact with an infected person.
Symptoms - Nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain/cramps, fever, generally feeling unwell, including tiredness and body aches.
Duration - Gastro is highly contagious so obviously keep them home from school while they are sick, but also do not send them to school for at least 24 hours after symptoms have ended.
Treatment - Always wash and dry hands thoroughly after they go to the toilet. Immediately remove and wash any clothes or bedding contaminated with vomit or diarrhoea using detergent and hot water. After an episode of diarrhoea or vomiting, clean contaminated surfaces (for example benches, floors and toilets) immediately using bleach based product/detergent and hot water. Keep up fluids and the use of Hydralyte Electrolyte products in drinks are extremely helpful as your child will probably be extremely dehydrated due to all the vomiting and diarrhoea.
If symptoms persist past 48hrs or seem extremely violent, you notice blood, their pain is excessive, and/or your child is becoming extremely dehydrated please visit your doctor immediately.
NOTE: Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix and it has similar symptoms to gastro, however it is extremely important that if the child clutches their side or complains of pain that doesn't subside after being given pain relief, you should take them to the hospital immediately to avoid it rupturing.
Chickenpox Chickenpox is a virus and is very contagious. It is most harmful to people with a deficient or immature immune system. The vaccination for Chickenpox was invented to protect children from getting it and passing it on to pregnant women as well as young babies.
Symptoms - A blistering and itchy skin rash will form over the whole body along with flu-like symptoms such as fever.
Duration - The time from infection to the appearance of the rash (incubation period) is around 14 to 16 days.
Treatment - Bed rest and drinking extra fluids along with paracetamol to bring down the fever. Baths with baking soda or oatmeal added to the water, creams and lotions such as calamine to reduce the itching. If symptoms appear excessive see your GP for any possible antiviral medication that may be beneficial.
Eczema This is a skin condition where skin is dry and itches, and spreads by scratching and overheating. It can be caused by reacting to a irritant which can range from an allergy, chemicals in household products such as washing powder, shampoo and clothing.
Infants: Rashes commonly appear on scalp and cheeks usually bubbling up before weeping fluid. Extreme itchiness which may lead to trouble sleeping. Continuous rubbing and scratching can lead to skin infections.
Children, from 2 years old to puberty: Rashes commonly appear behind the creases of elbows or knees. Also common on neck, wrists, ankles, crease between buttock and legs.
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Over time, the following symptoms can manifest: Rashes can become bumpy, like goosebumps, can lighten or darken in colour and can thicken then develop knots and a permanent itch
Duration - For some people eczema goes away over time, and for others it remains a lifelong condition. It does however require treatment.
Treatment - There is no cure for eczema. Treatment for the condition aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flaring of the symptoms. Doctors will suggest a plan of treatment based around a patient's age, symptoms, and current state of health.
Upper respiratory tract infection Infections in the upper respiratory tract involve only the nose, sinuses, pharynx or larynx, and not the trachea or the lungs. These types of infections include tonsillitis, rhinitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis and sinusitis in addition to the common cold, flu and ear infections.
Symptoms - Coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, nasal congestions, runny nose, fever, scratchy sore throat and trouble with nasal breathing.
Duration - Upper respiratory infections are caused by more than two hundred different viruses, no two exactly alike. Symptoms can last from 24 hours to four weeks.
Treatment - Initially can be treated the same as a cold, however if you notice enlarged painful tonsils and trouble eating, trouble breathing, excessive chesty cough etc this may be tonsillitis or some sort of infection such as a chest infection. Visit your local GP to discuss the treatment as the child may require antibiotics.
NOTE: Lower respiratory tract infections include bronchitis, croup and pneumonia which are more serious and involve bacteria or viruses getting past the nose and throat. Even simple tonsillitis can lead to a streptococcal infection becoming blood borne and developing into rheumatic fever. Doctors will be able to tell how far an infection has spread into the respiratory system during an examination and will offer antibiotics accordingly to prevent this.
If unsure or simply worried, always consult your local GP.
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