Students finally head back to school and an exciting year ahead! But, after a laxed summer schedule, resuming the structure of classes and school activities aren’t the only challenges kids face. Crowded classrooms, proximity to many other kids and shared spaces and supplies present health challenges as well.
Other factors can further compromise a child’s health in the school setting, including stress, immunodeficiencies, and improper hygiene habits. Additionally, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many students may have been exposed to flood water contaminants, mold and temporary housing hindering sleep and causing anxiety – taxing their immune system and exacerbating asthma and other respiratory problems.
Parents can improve a child’s chances of staying healthy by:
- Ensuring vaccinations are up to date, flu shot
- Adequately addressing stress
- Enforcing healthy diet and sleep habits
- Providing adequate amounts of immune boosting Vitamin C
- Recognizing early signs of illness
- Educating kids on hygiene “best practices” for the classroom
“What we know in the medical community is that we’re busiest in the fall, winter and early spring – and less so in summer, because kids are not exposed to other kids and communicable diseases to the same extent,” said Dr. Robbyn Traylor, family medicine physician and Medical Director of Next Level Urgent Care, LLC.
“We know that when school starts there will be a spike in common colds, upper respiratory infections, and strep throat – and then the flu in November and December. At school, kids are next to each other seven to eight hours a day. It’s easy to pick something up,” said Traylor.
According to Traylor, vaccinations should top the list for parents hoping to ensure a healthy school year.
“The flu is a monster. Despite some negative discussion regarding vaccinations, we strongly recommended immunization against influenza and ensuring that your child’s vaccines are up to date. It not only ensures that your child is protected but also others in their class, who may suffer from compromised immune systems as the result of a treatment or other condition. It’s part of being a good neighbor, or ‘good citizen’ so to speak,” said Traylor.
“There are two types of flu vaccinations; trivalent, which protects against three different types of flu strains, and quadrivalent, which protects against four. Your physician can recommend the right one for your child. Just make a plan for the year, and review your child’s shot record with your doctor,” she added.
In an increasingly aggressive academic environment, preparing for a new school year and action-packed schedule can prompt real stress in children. Expectations are high and down time is limited. And this school year comes in the wake of a devastating storm that displaced many and altered standard school processes – further contributing to an already stressful time for many. Stress can weaken an individual’s immune response predisposing them to illness.
Consistently providing sufficient breaks in your child’s schedule and unstructured activity time/down time can provide important balance and opportunity to relieve stress.
“When under stress there is a cortisol release, which decreases immune system function. Parents want to make sure that their kids lead a ‘balanced’ lifestyle. Classes are challenging. There are sports and extracurricular activities filling the schedule. Kids often wake at 6 a.m. and are not done until 11 p.m. Figuring out school-life balance for your child is very important for strong immunity,” said Traylor.
Healthy Diet and Sleep Habits
Ensuring that kids have a healthy diet and good sleep habits can be challenging for today’s busy family, but they are two important components for both physical and mental well-being. Immune-boosting foods and adequate sleep will help supplement the occasional fast food and hectic nights, providing additional protection against colds and other communicable diseases frequently spread through classrooms.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommended sleep for pediatric populations, supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP).
Immune Boosting Vitamin C
According to Dr. Traylor, Vitamin C is excellent for illness prevention, providing immune system support and beefing up the mucous membrane.
“Make sure your kids have a good dose of Vitamin C through either a supplement or Vitamin C-rich foods. As their doctor, I don’t care how they get it – just that they get it. It has little benefit after they become sick, but it is very good for prevention,” said Traylor.
The recommended daily Vitamin C intake identified by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine for infants 0-12 months of age is the amount of Vitamin C in human milk; for children 1-3 years of age is 15 milligrams; for children 4-8 years of age is 25 milligrams; for children 9-13 years of age is 45 milligrams; and 1,800 milligrams daily for adolescents 14-18 years of age.
Early Signs of Illness
Recognizing early signs of illness can help prevent more serious conditions from occurring, as well as minimize required treatment and ensure a rapid recovery. While common cold symptoms, like sniffles, without fever are generally not concerning for the first four to five days, lingering symptoms combined with a sore throat and/or abdominal pain and vomiting may warrant a visit to the doctor.
“I’m a big fan of taking care of acute illness early. One person’s immune system may be better able to handle what another’s cannot,” said Traylor.
“We have lab tests that can let us know within 10 minutes whether an illness is strep or the flu. We can then recommend treatment before things progress to a more serious level. For example, if we identify strep before nausea and vomiting has set in, the patient will tolerate an oral antibiotic better. Otherwise, it becomes more complicated,” added Traylor.
While most cold symptoms can be treated with medicine cabinet medications (Delsym® for cough and alternating between Ibuprofen and Tylenol® for pain), parents should consider seeking medical attention when:
- Cold or flu symptoms linger for more than a week and cause discomfort (most viral illness is done after about a week)
- The child experiences abdominal pain and/or vomiting (this can even precede a sore throat in Strep)
- There is fever of 100.4 or greater, particularly when accompanying other cold or flu symptom
Best Practices for Staying Healthy at School
Understanding some simple steps that everyone can take to prevent the spread of germs and promote good health at school will go a long way in ensuring a healthy school year. These include:
- Staying up to date with vaccinations, flu shot
- Regular use of sanitizer wipes / keeping hands clean
- Sneezing into the elbow or shirt (lifting shirt over face) rather than into hands
- Recognizing and addressing early signs of illness
Next Level Urgent Care serves Houston communities now with nine convenient locations, providing rapid and affordable access to healthcare and, most importantly, reassurance when symptoms become concerning.
The clinics, which open everyday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Cinco Ranch, Sugar Land, Champions now open at 7 a.m.), offer a range of health services including care for acute pediatric illness and injury.