Sick Days: How to Handle Childhood Illnesses

February 22, 2017 10:00 AM with Dr. Jennifer Schott

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Sick days are an unavoidable part of having a child, and while parents are ready to tackle colds and fevers, there are other conditions that can leave them stumped. Viral infections like hand, foot and mouth disease and herpangina, which are characterized by rashes, blisters and skin irritations, have also been on the rise. How can you tell what's causing your child's symptoms? Dr. Jennifer Schott, NorthShore Pediatrician, is here to help. She will discuss the symptoms of childhood illnesses, and provide insight into how parents can address and work towards preventing them.

Kathryn (Moderator) - 10:00 AM:
Our chat on childhood illnesses is now open. You can submit questions at any time during this chat.

  Aurelia (Chicago, IL) - 10:02 AM:
I have a 17 year old daughter who was diagnosed with mono about a year ago. My concern is that the IGM is still positive, even though a whole year has passed. What other test can I request from the doctor? Her symptom is severe fatigue.
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
I would recommend that you look for other causes of fatigue; thyroid, Celiac disease or anemia for example. Sometimes, the mono tests remain positive, but mono is likely not the cause of her ongoing symptoms. Also, she should possibly see an immunologist or rheumatologist to help get to the bottom of these issues. I hope this helps!

Dr. Schott


  Karen (Mt Prospect, IL) - 10:05 AM:
My questions are about pertussis; how does this get treated and what can you do if your child is in daycare and gets diagnosed?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
HI! Good question.

The problem with pertussis is that once you get the illness, treatment doesn't really help the symptoms. We treat it with a 5 day course of zithromax so that your child is not contagious to others. We also preventatively treat close contacts/family members, so they don't come down with it.

There is not much to do for the cough. Some families like benadryl to help their kids rest and possibly suppress some of the cough reaction due to a deeper sleep. With older kids, we use antacids at night so the stomach reflux that happens when kids lie down doesn't trigger as much of a cough response.

Let me know if you have other questions.

Dr. Schott


  M (Skokie, IL) - 10:09 AM:
My son is 9.5 years old and has suddenly developed these facial movements which he claims are involuntary. He will roll his eyes to the side every few seconds and along with that also turn his face that way. The direction usually is to the right but can also be to the left. He also keeps blinking and making his eyes wide open. It is so constant every few seconds. Could this be caused by an illness?

Thank you so much. Very worried.

Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
I do not usually see this related to an illness. This is most commonly a complex tic. That being said, he should for sure see his pediatrician and possibly a neurologist to confirm that this is only a tic.

Dr. Schott


  Judy (Glenview, IL) - 10:11 AM:
How can you tell the difference between hand, foot and mouth disease and herpangina?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Actually, herpangina is considered the same viral cause as hand, foot and mouth, but it just manifests in the mouth and not on the hand and foot, although, I have called it "herpangina" at first, and then a couple of days later, the kids get the rash on their hands and feet.

Dr. Schott


  Linda (Evanston, IL) - 10:13 AM:
Can infections like chickenpox get spread through touch?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Yes, If someone touches a pox mark that is active, then they can get it if they have not had chickenpox before or have not been immunized.

Other illnesses are spread usually by secretions from the mouth or eyes or stool.

Hope this helps!

Dr. Schott


  Amy (Highland Park, IL) - 10:15 AM:
My son receives all of his vaccinations – if there are children in his daycare who haven’t received them, is it possible for him to still catch something?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Sadly yes. Vaccines are not 100% effective, especially the pertussis vaccine, which is probably only 75-80% effective. That is why we really still want everyone vaccinated. That being said, your child will unlikely get something, but there is still a small risk.

Dr. Schott


  Jane (IL) - 10:19 AM:
I saw a lot of news about hand, foot and mouth disease being spread, but none of my kids have ever had it (I don’t think their friends or classmates have either) – is it very common? How can you protect against it?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Definitely very common. It is usually not a big deal in older kids, just more of a problem in infants and toddlers. Older kids may just get a common cold or diarrhea. Your kids may have had a mild case of it at some point and you just didn't realize it. Really no way to protect against it except for lots of hand washing. In little kids, that is easier said than done. Also, this is just a virus, and the problem in little kids are the mouth sores that make it difficult to eat and drink, but otherwise, they usually do quite well after a few days.

Dr. Schott


  Lori (Wheeling, IL) - 10:23 AM:
My daughter has asthma, and I notice that sometimes, she can get regular colds, but they last for over a week – could she have something else, or does her asthma just make her more vulnerable?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Oftentimes, asthma and allergies go hand-in-hand and definitely make it more difficult to fight the common cold. You could try Flonase during cold season if she is old enough - it may prevent symptoms from lasting so long.

For sure follow up with your pediatrician, but I assume they are not worried about other significant illnesses at this time since she is likely growing and thriving and not requiring hospital admissions.

Dr. Schott


  Audrey (Chicago, IL) - 10:26 AM:
I’ve heard some say that being too cautious about germs can actually be worse for children – is this true?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Actually, I think it is! They say kids who live on farms or attend daycare, who get lots of exposure, likely gain better immunities and possibly less allergies. For sure don't lock your kids away! :)

Dr. Schott


  Caitlin (Evanston, IL) - 10:28 AM:
How can you tell when it’s just a regular sore throat, and when it’s strep?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
To be honest, you can't! Usually, strep doesn't come with a significant runny nose or diarrhea; those are more viral signs. That being said, I have seen strep present itself in many different ways. For me and my kids, the first couple of days of a cold often comes with a bad sore throat, so I have learned not to test my kids when they have a really snotty nose.

Dr. Schott


  Kevin (Evanston, IL) - 10:32 AM:
Should I send my kids to school with little bottles of antibacterial gel to prevent germs, or is that too cautious?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Probably too cautious and will drive them crazy. I would just recommend not putting hands in their mouth and good hand washing after the bathroom and before snacks or lunch. Also, never share a water bottle with anyone! :)

Dr. Schott


  Mike - 10:35 AM:
Is there a way to tell the difference between the rashes kids get with measles and chickenpox?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
They should look pretty different. Chickenpox are like little water blisters and measles are usually red dots or in a lacy red pattern.

Dr. Schott


  Charlotte (Wilmette, IL) - 10:37 AM:
Is it better to use over-the-counter medicine for colds, or should you go to the doctor first?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
As long as the kids are old enough and it is in the first few days of just a cold, it is totally okay to try over-the-counter medications first.

Dr. Schott


  Val (Skokie, IL) - 10:40 AM:
Are elementary age kids more likely to get viruses like chickenpox than kids in high school?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Not really. The only reason would be that younger kids have poorer hand washing skills than older kids, and younger kids put their hands in their mouths more often. Hopefully, no one is getting chickenpox because they are fully vaccinated! :)

Dr. Schott


  Sandy (IL) - 10:45 AM:
My son plays sports (high school) and regularly uses a locker room – he’s developed brown, itchy spots on his skin. What could this possibly be? Should I go to a pediatrician or a dermatologist?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
To be honest, I am not sure. I usually recommend to start with the pediatrician. Oftentimes, it is just dermatitis, and a simple cream can fix it. If they are not sure what is going on, then they can have you see a dermatologist.

Dr. Schott


  Shawna (Chicago, IL) - 10:48 AM:
Does playing a sport make kids more vulnerable to catching a virus or getting sick?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
No. I think the exercise is great and keeps them healthier in the end. The only thing I always say is don't let your kids share water bottles with the other kids on the team. Sharing germs like that is a perfect setup for getting illnesses.

Dr. Schott


  Rebecca (Evanston, IL) - 10:52 AM:
Is it true that kids will only get the chickenpox once? Is this also true for measles or hand, foot, and mouth?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Chickenpox and measles should just be once. Chickenpox can only come back as shingles in some people.

Kids can get hand, foot and mouth disease a lot! The virus can be a little different all the time.

Dr. Schott


  Jess (IL) - 10:55 AM:
What precautions should we take before taking the kids on spring break vacation (going to Florida)?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Not much. Just have good hand washing, especially on the plane, and plan to use bug spray with deet to prevent bites and prevent secondary infections.

Have fun!!

Dr. Schott


  Julie (Glenview, IL) - 10:58 AM:
Are there any bugs or illnesses going around, or that might pop up in spring that parents should look out for?
Dr. Jennifer Schott (NorthShore)
Nothing new that I know of. Right now, just lots of strep, flu and stomach/GI bugs. Hand, foot and mouth disease usually appears in late spring and early summer.

Can't wait for spring! :)

Dr. Schott


Kathryn (Moderator) - 11:00 AM:
This will be the end of our chat. Thank you for your questions. If you would like more information on childhood illnesses, or to speak to a specialist like Dr. Schott, you can contact NorthShore's Department of Pediatrics

This chat has ended.

Thank you very much for your participation.

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