Most children seem to chug along through life enjoying good health. However, some children are not that fortunate. They seem to suffer from runny noses, fatigue, fevers, and accidents much more often than their peers. Parents may react with extreme caution, calling their pediatrician or visiting Urgent Care frequently, or they may take a “wait and see” approach, only contacting medical help if their child is truly in distress.
Dr. Hassan Alzein of Alzein Pediatrics in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn Illinois has seen both kinds of parents and every kind in between. “No approach to your child’s health is wrong,” Dr. Alzein says. “However, there are some symptoms and indicators that need an evaluation from a medical professional, be it with a sick visit to your pediatrician or an Urgent Care visit.”
“While about 3% of the US population had food allergies in 1960, in 2020 that percentage has more than doubled to 7%,” says Dr. Alzein. “As many as 9% of kids in Australia have food allergies. Additionally, the foods to which people were allergic were very narrow in the 60s, like think seafood or dairy. Today, there are many more foods causing allergic reactions, such as peanuts, buttermilk, sesame seeds, tree nuts, eggs, milk, and so many more…and that doesn’t even include allergic reactions to pollen.”
An allergy is caused by the immune system fighting substances in the environment that it should see as harmless. Scientists aren’t sure why allergies are on the rise, but lean on data that supports these theories:
- We have better hygiene and use more antibiotics. Dr. Alzein says, “This is known as the “hygiene hypothesis. Nowadays, parents tend to use antibacterial soaps, wipes, and cleansers, wiping down everything kids may touch. Small bodies don’t need to fight off bacteria, so the immune system isn’t strongly developed. The same holds for the higher use of antibiotics. Prescribing antibiotics when they are not needed robs the body’s ability to develop a tougher immune system.”
- We’re limiting foods offered to children in their first year. In a study in the UK, kids were given peanut products before the age of 1 and their bodies learned how to accept them. Dr. Alzein explains that this is because a newborn baby’s gut immune system is better prepared to tolerate bacteria and foreign substances in food. Conversely, since people now move more freely from country to country, those who have never encountered a food before will have reactions to it when first exposed to their new countries.
- We don’t get enough vitamin D. “Children need Vitamin D to help their immune systems develop. Since kids are spending less time in the sun nowadays, they don’t get the needed boost from Vitamin D,” says Dr. Alzein.
Allergic reactions can be as minor as a runny nose or could require a 9-1-1 call and a rush to the ER. Your child might require no treatment, could possibly benefit from over-the-counter allergy medications, sublingual immunotherapy, or may need to carry a life-saving EpiPen – possibly forever.
“Watch for allergic reactions and discuss them with your pediatrician,” says Dr. Alzein. These can include:
- Sneezing, coughing, or a runny nose
- Red, watery or itchy eyes
- Swelling anywhere on the body
- Rashes or unusual redness, welts or blisters
- Difficulty breathing
- Vomiting or diarrhea, especially after eating certain foods
Type 1 Diabetes (or T1D)
“We hear much more about Type 2 diabetes, but children are more significantly impacted by Type 1 diabetes. It is life-changing,” says Dr. Alzein. T1D in children, previously known as juvenile diabetes, happens when your child’s body no longer produces enough insulin as the body’s immune system attacks insulin-producing (islet) cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone needed to survive. Developing T1D means your child will need insulin replacement, such as injections or an insulin pump. Without sufficient insulin, sugar builds up in the bloodstream causing life-threatening complications.
“Unfortunately, while there have been advancements in the treatment of T1D and our ability to live with it, there is no known cause or cure for diabetes nor is there any way to prevent Type 1 diabetes,” says Dr. Alzein.
A T1D diagnosis can be very overwhelming for both the child and the parents. “All at once, you and your child have to learn to count carbohydrates, give injections, and monitor blood sugar while being cognizant of everything your child puts in his or her mouth,” says Dr. Alzein.
T1D can develop quickly, so Dr. Alzein urges parents to watch for:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination, possibly bed-wetting in a toilet-trained child
- Extreme hunger
- Unintentional weight loss
- Irritability or behavior changes
Dr. Alzein notes, “You can help your child prevent diabetes complications by working together to maintain blood sugar control as much as possible, teaching your child the importance of eating a healthy diet, participating in regular physical activity, and attending regular doctor visits.”
“Every year, about 1 in 100 kids will get a concussion – slightly more for boys than girls, and slightly more for kids with ADHD,” says Dr. Alzein. “Even with a more intense spotlight on concussions the last 10 years, the incidences of concussions continue to increase every year.”
Concussions can be very mild, getting hit in the head and perhaps passing out but with no further symptoms. They can also be very serious. “Your child may be hospitalized with bleeding in the brain. They may lose some function temporarily. They may be unable to sit in bright light for any period – sometimes for months,” says Dr. Alzein.
More importantly, a person who has been concussed is 5 times more likely to get another concussion.
Most concussions resolve themselves on their own and are not life-threatening. However, anytime your child experiences a bump, blow or jolt in the head, or an impact that causes their head to move rapidly, it’s time for a visit to an Urgent Care or ER. Even if you did not witness or can’t confirm your child experienced a head injury, seek medical care if you see these symptoms in your child:
- Headache or dizziness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty concentrating or confusion delayed verbal responses
- Feeling sleepy, fatigued, or groggy
- Trouble seeing, blurred or double vision
- Slurred speech
- Trouble balancing
“If your child has experienced a concussion, they must have medical care to ensure a complete recovery,” says Dr. Alzein. “It may be as simple as rest and acetaminophen, but your child may also need critical intervention to recover.”
Beth March may be the most famous scarlet fever story, but this type of illness is incredibly common. “Scarlet fever was once considered a serious childhood disease,” says Dr. Alzein, “but because of modern antibiotics, it is no longer as threatening. If left untreated, scarlet fever can still damage the heart or the kidneys. When treated with antibiotics, it usually lasts about a week.”
Scarlet fever most commonly occurs in children between 5 and 12 years old. The rash of scarlet fever is typically a fine, “sandpaper-like” rash that consists of small, red bumps and is spread from direct contact with an infected person. Symptoms will also include a fever of 101 or higher, a sore throat, and swollen glands in the neck. Parents should call their pediatrician or visit Urgent Care immediately to promptly begin treatment.
“We wait for summer fun all winter long, but we do need to be cautious on very hot days,” says Dr. Alzein. “Heatstroke is a very serious condition that occurs when your child’s core temperature reaches 104 degrees, usually a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures. If you don’t take immediate measures like getting your child in a swimming pool or a bathtub of ice water, permanent brain damage can occur.”
Signs of your child experiencing heatstroke include:
- High body temperature
- Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, and seizures.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flushed skin
- Racing heartbeat
Dr. Alzein says, “If you think a child is experiencing heat stroke, seek immediate help by calling 9-1-1 and then take immediate action to cool your child. Get the child out of the sun, put them in cool water, gently spray them with a garden hose, or use wet cool towels on the child’s head until medical professionals arrive.”
Hand Foot and Mouth Disease
“Hand, foot, and mouth disease are common for children under five years old but even adults can get it,” says Dr. Alzein. “It is generally not serious but it is very contagious. It spreads quickly in grade schools and daycare centers so if your child is infected, make sure to inform your child’s school or daycare center. “
Healthcare providers can usually tell if a child is infected by a simple examination. Treatment is relatively easy – take over-the-counter medications to relieve the fever, and make sure your child stays hydrated – even when they might not want to drink because it is painful with mouth sores.
Parents should call their pediatrician when they notice:
- Sore throat or painful blisters on the tongue, gums, and inside the cheeks
- Red skin rash, often blistering, on palms, soles of the feet, and possible the buttocks
- Loss of appetite and irritability
“Before the chickenpox vaccine began to be widely distributed in 1995, there were 3 to 4 million cases in the United States each year. The virus replicates in the upper respiratory tract and is easily spread from person to person by droplets, an airborne spread of respiratory tract secretions, or contact with the fluid of the blisters. Even with the vaccine, it is still possible to contract chickenpox,” says Dr. Alzein. Vaccination is recommended for all children starting at 12 to 15 months of age with a second dose at four to six years of age.
Parents should watch for:
- A rash that appears first on the chest, back, and face, and then spreads over the entire body, filling with a clear fluid
- Loss of appetite
“Chickenpox can be relatively harmless and easily treated with anti-itch medication, but it is recommended that parents contact their child’s pediatrician,” says Dr. Alzein. “Typically, children are no longer contagious when their rash blisters have all crusted.”
“Most parents have a very good instinct about their child’s wellbeing,” says Dr. Alzein. “However, when your child has symptoms of an illness or injury that requires medical treatment or intervention, it’s best to seek that care immediately. Waiting can often put your child at a much greater risk for serious, life-long complications.”