How to avoid school-related illnesses and injuries

Sharing classroom supplies, close contact on the playground and seasonal viruses lead to illnesses and injuries.

Parents and kids are back to morning routines and nightly homework. Yet for many, the school year brings another obstacle. Sharing classroom supplies, close contact on the playground and seasonal viruses lead to illnesses and injuries.

Drew Duerson, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Hospital Medical Associates – Shepherdsville, highlighted several common reasons for  school-related doctor’s visits:

Sore /strep throat
Strep throat, which is very common among young children and teens, is a contagious bacterial infection accompanied by fever, swollen lymph nodes and white patches on the roof of the mouth. With sore throats, patients commonly have a fever as well. Most sore throats are caused by viruses and clear up on their own.

Not all sore throats are caused by strep. A strep infection can be verified and diagnosed by special testing at the doctor’s office. Dr. Duerson added that testing and treating strep throat early reduces the duration of symptoms and prevents complications such as rheumatic fever.

Pinkeye appears as redness in one or both eyes, and is often accompanied by drainage, discharge and itchiness.

“Pinkeye is one of the most contagious illnesses we see during the school year,” Dr. Duerson said. “Yet a diagnosis by parents and caregivers is made more complicated because redness of an eye can be from allergies, lack of sleep or pinkeye.”

Pinkeye can be caused by a virus or bacteria. A viral infection will clear up on its own. Dr. Duerson said waking up with one or both eyes sealed shut may indicate that the child has bacterial pinkeye and might need antibiotic eye drops before returning to school.

Preventive measures, such as good hand-washing and not sharing personal items, such as towels or pillows, will help keep an infection from spreading at home.

Head lice
Head lice is one of the most discussed and confusing school-related conditions. Dr. Duerson said that though there are many misconceptions about head lice, it is not dangerous and often does not require children to miss multiple school days.

Teachers, parents and students often see lice on the scalp, where they lay eggs, called nits. Nits attach to the scalp or hair follicles and cause moderate to severe itching.

“Parents sometimes see white flakes on a child’s shoulder or clothes and assume it’s head lice,” Dr. Duerson said. “The general rule is if it flakes, it’s not head lice.”

Getting rid of head lice can be challenging. Dr. Duerson advises using an FDA-approved, over-the-counter treatment. In addition, lice and nits should be removed from wet hair with a fine-toothed comb. Children with head lice should not share pillows or combs with siblings, or have head-to-head contact with others.

Fall is normally the busiest season for sports medicine physicians. In addition to sports, students are in close contact on the playground during recess and are active in physical education classes.

“We see a lot of strains, sprains, bumps and bruises and for most of those, if there is swelling and pain associated, they need to be evaluated right away,” Dr. Duerson said.

Dr. Duerson warned that children in elementary and middle school are still skeletally immature and can suffer from undetected injury.

“We actually don’t see a lot of sprains in those age groups. For example, a rolled or sprained ankle might actually be a growth plate fracture with the same symptoms and we would need to evaluate (it) a little closer,” Dr. Duerson said.

Before seeing a physician, Dr. Duerson said that following the RICE steps – rest, ice, compression and elevation – is a great way to kick-start recovery.


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