Although data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 84 percent of children ages five to 11 are in excellent or very good health, all parents know to expect a certain number of illnesses and injuries to affect their children’s lives. After all, the average child comes down with six to eight colds per year, while more than 9.2 million kids are treated for non-fatal injuries in American emergency departments each year. And as children grow and are exposed to new environments, new people, and new interests, their likelihood of falling ill or becoming hurt in some way will often increase, too.
If you’re a parent whose child has recently started school, you’ll have a whole host of new social and academic activities to worry about–as well as a few common health concerns. Some accidents simply can’t be prevented and some medical issues are to be expected. But there are others that can be avoided by embracing essential healthy habits. To that end, here are three prevalent and easily preventable ailments for which you’ll want to prepare during your child’s formative years.
Although head lice can be found worldwide, these parasitic insects can typically be found on the heads of children in daycare, elementary school students, and the family members of those children who have been infested. The CDC estimates that anywhere from 6 million to 12 million infestations of head lice occur every year among children aged three to 11.
Head lice spread through direct contact, as these insects cannot hop or fly. They crawl from host to host, usually spreading through head-to-head contact. They also commonly spread when an infested person shares clothing (e.g., hats or scarves) or personal items (e.g., combs, brushes, pillows, headphones, or towels) with another individual. The signs of head lice may be hard to spot, but they include itching, irritability, difficulty sleeping, red bumps, tickling sensations, and sores.
The presence of head lice can be confirmed via a trained professional (usually, a medical provider or health department official). If an active case is confirmed, all members of that household and other close contacts should be examined. Lice treatment should be administered to all those with confirmed cases. This may involve over-the-counter or prescription medications, as well as supplemental methods to thoroughly wash materials and household items.
Prevention is key to reduce the spread of head lice. While you can’t control what your child does when they’re at school or are participating in social activities, you should discuss the importance of avoiding head-to-head contact with others. You should also ensure they know the danger of sharing personal belongings with others. Make sure your child has access to his or her own comb, brush, scarf, hat, helmet, towel, hair accessories, and coat so that they do not have to borrow from others. Discourage the sharing of personal storage spaces, as well. Although some studies have suggested that certain ingredients–such as rosemary, tea tree oil, eucalyptus, and lemongrass–may repel lice, those products are not regulated by the FDA and their effectiveness cannot be confirmed. If your child’s school announces that there’s a concern for head lice among the student body, check your child’s scalp for signs of nits (lice eggs) or moving lice. When in doubt, call your healthcare provider and have an examination performed.
The CDC reports that tooth decay is actually one of the most chronic childhood conditions in the United States. Nearly 20 percent of children aged five to 11 have at least one untreated cavity, with even younger children being more prone to dental caries (tooth decay). Due to the bacteria present in every person’s mouth, all children are at risk for developing tooth decay. But those with poor oral hygiene or a diet rich in sugars and starches are at higher risk for cavities.
It may be tough for parents to assess whether their child has a cavity, particularly if the child is too young to adequately communicate what he or she is experiencing. Sensitivity and pain are both common symptoms, as are white spots on the teeth or teeth that take on a brown or black shade due to decay formation. Holes may also start to form in the teeth during the later stages.
While cavities and other signs of decay are extremely common, they can also be easily prevented. Parents must take an active role in their children’s oral health during these early years, as your child will likely be unable to adequately perform these tasks without supervision.
You should brush your child’s teeth, gums, and tongue twice per day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride (though you should refrain from using this type of toothpaste if your child is under the age of two, unless your dentist recommends it). Studies show that children who live in communities that have fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children who do not have accessed to water with fluoride. If your tap water at home does not contain fluoride, you may want to speak to your dental provider about whether oral fluoride supplements might be an appropriate substitute.
You should also floss your child’s teeth every day once he or she has turned two years old. Limit your child’s consumption of fruit juices and other sugary drinks, as well. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of one should be given no juice at all and should be given only in small quantities to all other children. Toddlers should also not be given juice at bedtime or in transportable cups that allow them to consume juice throughout the day.
Finally, you should schedule appointments with your pediatric dentist every six months once he or she turns one year old or the first tooth starts to form (whichever comes sooner). This is one of the surest ways to prevent dental decay throughout your child’s lifetime.
Highly Infectious Diseases
Vaccinations may be a hot-button topic in the news, but the World Health Organization reports that “there is arguably no single preventive health intervention more cost-effective than immunization.” Immunization currently prevents between 2 million and 3 million deaths per year; if worldwide vaccination coverage were to improve, an estimated 1.5 million more deaths could be avoided annually. Serious diseases like measles, diphtheria, polio, rubella, whooping cough, mumps, tetanus, hepatitis, and a host of other illnesses proved fatal in thousands of children before vaccines were developed. Since these immunizations came into widespread use, the number of diagnosed cases of these diseases has decreased to anywhere from 91 percent to 100 percent.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation about vaccines that continues to permeate our society. This information may convince some parents to forgo vaccinations for their children, which can have huge consequences. Not only does this leave the child vulnerable to a potentially deadly disease, but it also means they may expose countless others (who may not be able to receive vaccinations due to age or immune system issues) to these conditions.
The FDA has pronounced each and every one of these vaccinations as being safe and effective–and they are our best chance at ensuring herd immunity across the nation. There are some valid exceptions to forgoing vaccinations, but most children are immunized from more than a dozen deadly diseases by the time they turn two. To significantly reduce your child’s risk of contracting these illnesses and spreading them to others, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. He or she can provide you with accurate information, answer any questions you may have, and dispel any of your concerns.
Ultimately, you can’t always keep your child completely safe from harm. That’s one of the toughest lessons to learn as a parent. But in many cases, you can prevent the worst case scenario from occurring. By taking preventative action and prioritizing education, you can take an active role in safeguarding your child’s health.