The Weird and Interesting Life of a Flu Virus

sick-kid-01The first description we have of the influenza virus was from Hippocrates (my hero!) 2400 years ago. He dealt with it every winter, endlessly, just as we do now. Nowadays it makes between 3 and 5 million people sick each year, and kills 250 to 500 thousand people annually. In the US we average 200 thousand hospitalizations and 36 thousand deaths yearly. Persistent, nasty little bugger.

Influenza gets its name from the Italian word for influence, because we initially thought it was caused by the influence of the stars, and later by the influence of the cold. Now we know better.

The influenza  virus is a tiny spherical particle, only 80-120 nanometers in size. It would take a million of them standing in a row to make a 1 centimeter line. Its core is made of 8 separate segments of RNA (we humans have DNA). This core is surrounded by protective proteins and an envelop with 2 types of “glycoproteins”–the famous Hs and Ns you hear about when people talk about which type of flu is causing problems each year: Hemagglutinins and Neuraminidases. NPR has a very cool video of the flu virus invading a cell. The “key” in the video is the hemagglutinin.

The Hemagglutinins (Hs) bind to target cells in your body and inject the virus particle into your cells. How contagious the flu is, what symptoms it gives you, and how sick it can make you depends on the Hs. An H that can bind to cells in your eyes, nose, and mouth is more contagious than one that can only bind to your throat. An H that can bind to a cell deep in your lung is much more serious than one that can only bind to a cell in your throat.

The Neuraminidases (Ns) release the progeny of that prolific particle from that cell so that the little critters can spread further through your body.

The Hs and Ns are the molecules our immune systems build antibodies against, whether we catch the flu or just get exposed to the dead virus in the annual vaccine. The Hs and Ns are also the targets for antiviral drugs. There are 16 different Hs and 9 different Ns. Humans are usually infected with H 1,2, or 3 and N 1 and 2.

There are three groups (genera) of flu viruses in the family Orthomyxoviridae. (I am a nerd–I love that word. Ortho-myxo-vir-i-dae. It would make a killer rap song.) The three groups are simply labeled A, B, and C. Nerds have no creativity. A, B, and C. Sad.

  • Flu A has the most serogroups (Hs and Ns), infects the most different animals, and is the most virulent. It also mutates 2-3 times faster than B. The critters it infects are mostly aquatic birds, but it can infect many other species. We frequently call the flu by which animal is its main host. Human, bird, and swine are the most common strains we humans catch.
  • Flu B has only one serogroup and is almost exclusive to humans. It tends to be less severe and less common. Since it only has one serogroup and mutates slowly, many people develop a degree of immunity to it.
  • Flu C is even less common and less severe.

Flu viruses enter cells so that they can make copies of themselves and spread. As they make those copies they sometimes make mistakes, creating mutations. They average one mistake per copy, so mutation is constant– what we call antigenic drift. That’s why we never get immune to Flu A–it changes every year.

What makes Flu unique: There is one really cool thing about the flu virus that makes it different from most viruses: its RNA is split into 8 segments. Most viruses have one long piece of RNA. This means that if your local pig catches 2 different strains of flu at the same time, these strains can trade segments. When that happens we get antigenic shifts– much larger changes for which people have no immunity. These larger shifts can create a pandemic, like the Spanish flu in 1918 that killed an estimated 21 million people. We average 3 pandemics each century. We worry a lot about pandemics.

So, those are the ABCs of the flu virus. If you crave something more useful, like what you can do about it, check out my post on colds and flu or info on fever.

Now wash those little hands with soap, keep them away from noses and mouths, break out the alcohol (not the drinkable kind) and bleach, and go get those flu shots! This year’s shot covers Flu A H1N1 and H3N2, and two strains of B.

DomesticatedMomster
The Blogger's Pit Stop

Che, Che, Che, Changes… and Children

Change- just aheadBack-to-school season is the perfect time to think about how change impacts children, how to help them through it, and the positives that come when kids learn to be flexible and resilient.

Humanity is naturally comfortable with routine. We are confident in our ability to get through the day when we have done it all before. We are secure, and safe. We don’t have to particularly think about anything. To varying degrees, we all like to know what to expect–whole books are written about it!

This need for routine and stability is far more pronounced in a child. A toddler has no real sense of time–they live in the moment, and the future is a complete unknown. Older kids may have a better sense of time, but surprises can still incite strong emotion. Teens have so many changes going on already that seemingly small transitions can make them feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Yet change is inevitable, and the pace of change increases every day.  Parents today change jobs and geography more than did any previous generation; divorce is more common; the 24 hour cycle flings news at us continuously from around the planet.

Improvements in technology and rapid changes in our cultures remake our world the minute we turn our backs. So…

How to help children cope with change:

  • Be a good example. If you take things in stride and don’t appear worried or scared, they will imitate your reaction.
  • Build strong relationships. If they know they are loved and secure, a move or loss will not be so overwhelming.
  • Stay Healthy. Eat nutritious food, exercise, and get enough sleep. Everything is easier to deal with if you feel good and are not tired.
  • Warn them that change is coming. Imagine if even something as wonderful as Christmas happened without advance warning. There’s a tree in the living room, Dad is dressed up in a crazy suit, everyone is excited, and all the normal routines are suspended. Scary stuff! Let them know what is coming, and give them time to process.
  • Explain what is happening, and why it is happening, at their developmental level. Answer their questions. Give them information about the changes that are coming, and explore the possibilities. Imagine the good things that could happen as a result of the change as well as the bad and scary stuff.
  • Keep to routines when you can. Morning regimens, family meals, and bedtime routines are the foundation of a good day. Nothing feels safer than snuggling up with someone who loves you and a bedtime story.
  • Allow them their feelings. Don’t discount them. If the thing they are angry about the most with Grandma’s death is that no one will give them Tootsie Rolls anymore, nod solemnly and say you understand.
  • Expect bad behavior. Kids will regress with transitions, and will act out if they feel insecure. Discipline them in exactly the same way you would have before the change, because if they get away with bad behavior it will heighten their anxiety. If they still get a time out for saying that bad word, then things must not be that different. Bad behavior successfully disciplined establishes new borders and validates their security.
  • Let them have an impact on the change. Let them choose some flowers for an event, or the color of their new room for a move. Humans feel better when they have done something, no matter how small. Action shrinks fear.
  • Carve out time every day for a little one-on-one. ‘Nuf said.
  • Allow time for relaxation and fun. Laugh. Listen to music. Renee Jain, MAPP has a few excellent mindfulness activities for children here. I especially like her practice of “dissolving a thought.” Kids can devolve into what is called catastrophic thinking and spiral downward into a place where nothing is right with the world, and nothing ever will be. Mindfulness practice can stop that spiral and bring them back into the moment.
  • Avoid activities that increase stress, like competitive sports or games. This is not the time to play Monopoly. Simplify your schedule, and let things go.

Change is inevitable; learning to deal with it is a necessary skill. Kids who can adapt to new situations are better at everything from learning vocabulary to making friends to succeeding in the workplace.  Being able to manage your emotional responce to change is part of being a grownup. Knowing when to accept change and when to insist that you have an impact creates a fulfilling life. Last, seeing the good that can come from a transition is how you grab an opportunity.

The ability to adapt is one of the things that made humans special since we first started using that opposable thumb. Encourage your kids to learn it.

 

Domesticated Momster

 

The Blogger's Pit Stop

Zika Virus: An Update

Aedes mosquito-01The Zika virus was first isolated from a Rhesus Macaque monkey in 1947 in the Zika Forest in Uganda (zika meaning “overgrown” in the Luganda language–gotta love useless trivia!); it was first isolated from a human in 1954 in Nigeria. It appeared sporadically along the equator in Africa and Asia for several decades until it spread to French Polynesia in 2013 and then to Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and now the US.

Illness from Zika was rare until the pandemic began in 2007. The illness it caused was mild and self-limited until October 2015, when we began to see babies with microcephaly (very small brains) born to mothers who had been infected while pregnant. Evidence shows that these babies may also have eye abnormalities that will  effect their vision. There have been links to serious deformities in the joints in the arms and legs of affected babies. A report published August 30, 2016 noted that 6% of the babies affected by Zika also have hearing loss. According to the AAP as of November 4, 2016, their are five main birth defects: severe microcephaly with partially collapsed skull, decreased brain tissue with subcortical calcifications, extreme muscle tone, eye damage with macular scarring and increased pigment, and limited joint motion range.

There have now been more than 1500 cases of microcephaly in Brazil; in the most severe areas the incidence has been as high as 1:100 births.  On August 15, 2016 a state of emergency was declared in Puerto Rico, where they now have 10,690 confirmed Zika cases, including 1,035 pregnant women. Currently, more than 500 pregnant women in the US have shown evidence of a possible Zika infection.

Symptoms

Zika is a flavivirus related to Dengue, Chikungunya, and West Nile encephalitis. It is transmitted by several species of Aedes mosquitos which can, after biting an infected human, infect another person. Transmission has also been reported through blood transfusions and sexual contact.

The newly infected person may not have any symptoms at all, or may develop symptoms of illness within 2 weeks: fever, a bumpy red rash, sore joints, and pink eye. Less common symptoms include aching muscles, headache, and vomiting. The illness itself is usually mild and self limited.

Treatment

There is no preventative vaccine available yet and no treatment, other than pushing fluids, resting, and treating the symptoms with acetaminophen (Tylenol). The ill person should not take aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or naproxen (Aleve) until Dengue fever is ruled out, to avoid the risk of bleeding.

Where is it?

As of now, local transmission has been reported in more than 0 countries and territories. Current recommendations are that women who are pregnant, especially in their first trimester, do not travel to any of these areas. If they have to travel, they should do what they can to protect themselves from mosquito bites: wear long pants and long sleeved shirts, preferably treated with permethrin insect repellant; sleep in air conditioned rooms, screened in areas or with permethrin treated mosquito nets; and wear insect repellant, because these mosquitos are active during the daytime.

If you do travel to these areas and develop the symptoms of Zika after returning home, pregnant or not, see your doctor. Avoid mosquitos for the first few days, so that you will not be the source of spreading infection.

Men who have had Zika should use barriers during sex for at least 6 months after the infection; women for 8 weeks. Use of a barrier is recommended for at least 8 weeks after travel to endemic areas even if you have no symptoms.

As of today, we have had 1962 confirmed cases of the infection in the US, with 413 in Florida. Twenty eight of those were caught from local mosquitos. We have the Aedes mosquito along our southern coast and in southern California.

Prevention

In all likelihood the same measures we used to contain Denque in the US will contain Zika, but its spread is still possible. Taking precautions is certainly sensible.

  • Get rid of standing, stagnant water.
  • Clean up piles of garbage, because mosquitos love to breed in trash.
  • Put up or repair your window screens.
  • Spray.

Another possibility to limit spread of the infection is releasing GMO mosquitos with a lethal gene, to decrease the population of the bugs. When this was done in the Caman Islands the mosquito population decreased by 80%.

If you are pregnant, stay out of the endemic areas when possible. Take sensible precautions: clean up standing water and trash, put up or repair window screens, and wear insect repellant.

And keep an eye out for current recommendations from public health officials, because the places and numbers change daily.

DomesticatedMomster
The Blogger's Pit Stop

Summertime Rashes

little cute girl near the pool with a circle for swimmingWhen the days warm up, pediatric offices see a lot of summer skin problems. Kids aren’t often ill during the summer, but they do get sunburns, bites, jellyfish stings, and rashes.

Sunburn

No one thinks about sunscreen on that first glorious sunshiny day, so sunburns are usually our first evidence that summer is here. Remember to use sunscreen, of course, and don’t forget to reapply it every hour.

If your child does burn, give ibuprofen immediately – it helps with the inflammation and can actually reduce the depth of injury. Use aloe generously: it lessens the pain, moisturizes the skin, and helps heal the damage. If the burn is bad, call your doctor. Prescription steroids and burn creams will help.

Bug Bites

Bug bites are also very popular in the summer, from mosquitos, fire ants, yellow flies, and fleas. Insects inject toxins into children’s skin when they bite; how much a particular child reacts depends on how sensitive he or she is.

Cover up little arms and legs when you can, especially if you are going to be outdoors around twilight. There are excellent clothing treatments available that will keep bugs away and last through several washings, protecting your child indirectly.

If your child is older than 2 months, use insect repellant with DEET on exposed skin, even though it’s nasty. It works and it’s a whole lot better than getting insect borne encephalitis. 10% DEET lasts about 2 hours; 30% lasts about 5 hours. Don’t use anything stronger than 30% on a child. Don’t reapply in the same day, and do wash it off when you go back inside.

Creams with pramoxine or calamine will help with itchiness. Cortisone creams help itch and also swelling and redness, but can only be used a couple of times a day. If there are lots of bites, an antihistamine by mouth will also help with swelling and itch.

Never use antihistamine creams (benadryl is the most common), because children can react to the topical antihistamine and actually get worse instead of better.

Bee stings

Bee and wasp stings are treated much the same way, after making sure to remove the stinger and apply a cool compress (and yes, Grandma’s idea about the wet mud does help).

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac

If your child is a forest dweller, he or she will at some point get poison ivy, oak or sumac. These plants produce a poison called urushiol in their sap and leaves, causing redness, itch and blistering.

The severity of this reaction also varies depending on your munchkin’s sensitivity. My brother’s eyes would swell shut if someone burnt it a block away; I could pull it up and throw it away with no reaction.

Wash both the child and his or her clothes as soon as possible. No lounging on the furniture! The toxin can stay on surfaces for months. Once the toxin is either absorbed into the skin or washed off, the rash is no longer contagious. Blister fluid does not contain urushiol.

The rash will develop first where the most toxin was deposited, in streaks and patches. It can spread for a week or so to the areas where less toxin landed, then take another two weeks to clear.

If the rash is mild, you can treat it at home with cool compresses, baking soda or oatmeal baths, the same creams you used for those pesky bug bites, and that antihistamine by mouth. See? Grandma was right again.

If the rash is not mild, or your child has it on their face, around their eyes, or on their genitals (and how did that plant get there?) call your doc. We can put them on steroids, which help enormously.

Jellyfish stings

If you harbor a small mermaid or man in your home, she or he may get stung by a jellyfish. There are some extremely dangerous jellyfish, so if your child has any trouble breathing, is weak or nauseated, has pain away from the sting, or has sweating, cramping, or diarrhea, call your doctor immediately.

If it is a simple sting, first remove the barbs by scraping it with a towel or a credit card. Don’t rub. Put suntan oil or salt water and hot sand on the sting; heat will deactivate the poison.

Do NOT wash the sting with fresh water – it will make the nematocysts (poison sacks) explode and release more poison into the skin. Your child will scream and not love you anymore. Put only fluids with lots of particles in them on the sting: sting-away, vinegar or steak sauce, for example. Ibuprofen will also help the pain and inflammation.

Allergic rashes

Last, we see allergic reactions to everything from sunscreen to henna tattoos to jewelry to pool chemicals from fun in the sun. Kids with sensitive skin or eczema will rash out in the summer from the heat, humidity and sweat.

By now you can probably sense a common theme (or you could just ask Grandma): give your itchy red bumpy child a cool bath with mild soap. Moisturize and apply topical steroids or give antihistamines by mouth.

If any of this doesn’t work, call me! It gets lonely in a pediatric office during the summer when all the kids are healthy.

DomesticatedMomster
The Blogger's Pit Stop

Top Ten Tips for Summer Vacation Success

skateboarder-01School’s out! Time for the Family Vacation. So how do you have fun without going insane? I, of course, have my top ten tips:

10. Pack a simple medicine kit: don’t waste a day of vacation at the doctor’s office, refilling the prescription you forgot at home. Take:

  • any prescription meds your child sometimes needs, even if they haven’t used them in a while (asthma and allergy meds come to mind)
  • frequently used over-the-counter stuff: acetaminophen or ibuprofen, an antihistamine, insect repellant with DEET (the other stuff really doesn’t work, and insect borne encephalitis is unpleasant), sunscreen, and hand sanitizer
  • basic first aid supplies (band aids, gauze pads, tape, antibiotic ointment, cortisone cream, alcohol, tweezers, scissors, thermometer)

9.  Write out a budget before you go. I know, I am a fun sucker, but it has to be done. Know how much money you have and where you plan to spend it. Give the kids an allowance for souvenirs. They will be more careful with money they consider their own, and they will not be constantly asking for things. “Can I have that?” can be answered with “Sure, it’s your money. But are you positive that is where you want to spend it? There might be something better later…” Also, knowing how much you yourself have to spend will save you stress and regret later.

8.  Keep to healthy foods most of the time. (Here I go, sucking out the fun again!) Kids will have more energy, feel better and have a better attitude if they are nourished. And it’s cheaper. Have a basket of fruit available, some whole grain crackers, cheese, peanut butter, popcorn – food with nutrients. Don’t waste valuable vacation time sitting in the drive thru line and arguing over food.

7.  Keep to established routines when you can. Bring along a book for that bedtime story, keep bed time the same, set aside time for their bath. Kids don’t always deal well with change, and vacations are all about change. A few familiar routines will help them feel less stressed. And a full night’s sleep is an absolute necessity if you don’t want an emotional wreck for a kid.

6.  Keep an eye on the little ones. You are in a different environment with new dangers. Distractions abound. Kids on vacation get lost, or get into Grandma’s meds or the local pool. Check out my summer safety tips.

5.  Find interesting things to keep their brains busy. Bored kids whine, and then they find their own version of interesting things. Have a stock of books, games and videos for the car. Bring a journal for them to write in, and art supplies. Explore the area you travel to – Google it before you go. See the sights, hit the museums, find the local artists and craftsmen. Check out ideas to abolish summer boredom.

4.  Keep your own mind open to new and different ways of doing things, so that your kids will do the same. Kids internalize their parent’s judgments, and they will close down their minds and wipe possibilities out of their lives if that is the example you set.

3.  Keep them physically active as well. A tired kid is less stressed, sleeps better, and is not sitting around thinking of ways to get into trouble.

2.  Keep stress to a minimum. Use a GPS if you’re driving: arguments with the navigator have ruined many a vacation. Keep your expectations in line with the actual possibilities, to avoid disapointment. Don’t overschedule – leave time for that relaxing hike and to have a conversation over dinner. Stay within your budget – your hindbrain will know you are overspending and your stress will mount. Stressed out people snap at each other and cannot enjoy time or family.

1.  Align your vacation with your priorities, then toss out the rest. What are the goals of this vacation? Relaxation, family time, memories, enrichment, joy? Plan the vacation and activities that will get you there, and don’t let exhaustion, stress, and fear get in your way. Don’t stop at Uncle Joe’s house if you know he will stress you out; don’t vacation with those friends who overspend or forget to pay their half of the bill. Don’t worry if the kids are getting dirty or if your Aunt Judy wouldn’t approve. Just say no, open up, and relax.

And have a fantastic vacation!

4th of July Safety: Tips from the Doc

safety signSunshine, water, and fireworks. What else could you need? To avoid the ER afterwards!

Oddly, most 4th of July injuries actually have nothing to do with fireworks, and everything to do with parents being so busy that they are not as watchful as usual. Sports are more dangerous when we want to impress cousins. Teenagers tend to get more reckless during a celebration, and young children sneak away quickly.

Most injuries are from everyday activities and household objects made dangerous by the craziness. So,…

Top Ten things that will land you in my office after the fireworks:

1.  Drowning: The 4th is all about water. Every year pediatricians see drownings and near drownings on the 4th. Never leave any child alone for even a moment near open water, whether it is an ocean, a bathtub, or a water bucket.

All it takes is one moment of inattention for a child to slip away. If there is open water, you need to be within touching distance and focused on your child. Pools should be fenced in and closed off with a self-latching gate at the end of the day, and all the toys should be put away. Life vests are fabulous for a parent’s mental health and relaxation (swimmies and floaties are not life jackets). Life preservers and a shepherd’s crook should be placed obviously nearby wherever kids are swimming. For more tips on water safety, check out my summer safety tips.

2.  Fireworks: I know, it’s obvious, but it had to be on the list. Please leave them to the professionals. It’s not worth months in the burn unit and doing physical therapy.  No-one thinks it will happen to their kid, until it does.

3.  Choking: Toddlers will put anything in their mouths. This means that everybody needs to pick up his or her stuff. Items over 1¼ inch in diameter are generally safe. Items smaller than 1¼ inch can go straight into their gut or lung. The most dangerous items to swallow are button batteries and magnets; the most dangerous to choke on are grape sized (older children’s toys, hard candy) or stretchy (balloons, plastic bags, marshmallows). Clean up!

4.  Allergic reactions: Holidays provide a banquet of things to irritate children’s allergies. Plants, foods, cigarette smoke, bonfires and other people’s homes and pets come to mind. Avoid them if your child has allergies.

5.  Fires and electrical injuries are especially common during holidays. Decorations can be flammable, candles and fires are commonly nearby. Frayed and loose wires easily start fires. I have had an astounding number of children run through banked campfires after dark. Block them off please!  Keep your eyes open for dangers.

6.  Poisonings: The one I see most is an overdose on Grandma’s meds. At Grandma’s home they are left on countertops; at your home they are in her purse. A left over drink is also a common way to poison children. A little alcohol can drop a child’s blood sugar and throw him or her into a coma.

7.  Alcohol inside the grown-up: does this really need explanation?

8.  Dehydration/Food poisoning: Watch their intake. It’s hot and the kids are running around in endless circles. Bring lots of water (the stuff mother nature made for you, not the stuff with caffeine and sugar added). Food left out in the heat for hours can grow things that cause vomiting and diarrhea. If you don’t know where it came from and how long it’s been there, don’t eat it.

9.  Scarce common sense: If it doesn’t seem safe, don’t let people pressure you into it. Make them wear that bike helmet! Trampolines and motorized vehicles (Sea Doos, dirt bikes) are never a good idea.  Feel free to let watching your kids take precedence over seeing Uncle Joe’s trophy or Aunt Mary’s vacation photos. “He’ll be fine” doesn’t make him fine. Keep an eye on him.

10.  Politeness: Feel free to be rude and head for home when the kids get tired, if a situation feels out of control, or if your child is being exposed to something you aren’t happy with. Use the munchkin’s youth or fatigue as the excuse for you to head home, relax and read a bedtime story.

The point of celebrations is to solidify relationships and give hope for the future. Focus on family, rejoice in the day and be careful.  Keep plans simple, pick fewer things to do, and do them together. Be safe and stay healthy.

Children in the Aftermath of Trauma

Sad child on black background. Portrait depression girlWe try to protect our children from as much as we can, but sometimes life has other plans.

The murders in Orlando have taken over our thoughts, our conversations at home and with friends, the internet, and the television waves. Our children are being bombarded by the nightmare in front of the TV at home, in conversations with friends, and with questions asked by their peers. It can be too much for a child to deal with.

Your child’s experience of an event will vary depending on their age,  personal style,  life experience, and  closeness to the disaster. A toddler will only care that his or her parents seem to be upset. Older children will hurt for the people involved, worry about friends and relatives that are not within their sight, and worry that it could happen to them sometime, at some other event. What seemed exciting to discuss with friends during the day becomes frightening after the lights go off.

Listen to them talk, and be patient when they ask you the same questions over and over. Reassure them, let them know that such things are extremely rare. Answer questions truthfully, at their own developmental level. Never lie.

Monitor what your child sees and hears – adult conversation and the media can magnify fear and confusion and increase their trauma. Repetition can intensify anxiety; pictures can get locked in their heads.

After the event symptoms of post-traumatic stress may appear, even in children not directly involved. They may be sad or moody, easily angered or irritable. They may be afraid to go to public venues. They may have trouble sleeping or sleep too much. Appetites may suffer. Your child may be anxious when his or her people are not all nearby, and wake from nightmares.

Children frequently have concentration problems after a trauma, and their grades will suffer. They may regress developmentally: your independent youngsters may become clingy, or need help doing things they had been able to do on their own. They may avoid activities they previously enjoyed, and withdraw into themselves. They may become anxious at the thought of going to school, or of being separated from mom or dad.

They can also develop physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches. They may try to exercise more control on their environment, setting up their toys in a particular way, wanting their schedule to be predictable, or demanding activities they find reassuring. Teens may act out or try alcohol or drugs in an attempt to feel better.

Helping them may be as simple as listening. Be available and receptive but don’t push. A younger child may open up and tell you his story when you break out toys or art supplies; an older one may talk if you tell her a similar story about yourself, when you were scared or worried. Schedule time for just the two of you, and wait.

Children may try to hide their symptoms: they think they should be stronger, they don’t want to be a burden, or they think they are abnormal for having the problem. They may even feel that the disaster was their fault; children are not always logical. Allowing them to bury their symptoms will only erode their spirit from the inside.

Also, be a good example. Take care of yourself, eat healthy food, sleep, and discuss events calmly. Turn off the TV and stay off the web. Exercise. Take breaks to play, read a book, and do something unrelated to it.

Keep to recognizable routines– routine is reassuring and safe. Require reasonable behavior: if they still get in trouble for using that bad word, then everything must be OK. They may test you with bad behavior just to get that reassurance. Don’t spoil them with extra treats, because it will frighten them. Things must be really bad if The Parent gives me toys or lets me eat candy.

Lend a hand to other people. It will help to know that you have the power to help and comfort.

The traumatic symptoms may last quite a while. Triggers like parents going out at night or a security guard at a local festival may bring everything back. Fear of it happening again may linger. An anniversary will renew their anxiety.

If time passes and stress is affecting their lives, think about having them see a counselor or getting them into a peer group with similar concerns. We all need a little help sometimes.

My mom also used to say, “Time heals all wounds.” And with a little help from their guardians it always will.

Top 10 Tips for Successful Summer Vacations

little cute girl near the pool with a circle for swimming

School’s out! Time for the Family Vacation. So how do you have fun without going insane? I, of course, have a top ten from the Doc:

10. Pack a simple medicine kit: don’t waste a day of vacation at my office, refilling the prescription you forgot at home. Take:

  • any prescription meds your child sometimes needs, even if they haven’t used them in a while (asthma and allergy meds come to mind)
  • frequently used over-the-counter stuff: acetaminophen or ibuprofen, an antihistamine, insect repellant with DEET (the other stuff really doesn’t work, and insect borne encephalitis is unpleasant), sunscreen, and hand sanitizer
  • basic first aid supplies (band aids, gauze pads, tape, antibiotic ointment, cortisone cream, alcohol, tweezers, scissors, thermometer)

9.  Write out a budget before you go. I know, I am a fun sucker, but it has to be done. Know how much money you have and where you plan to spend it. Give the kids an allowance for souvenirs. They will be more careful with money they consider their own, and they will not be constantly asking for things. “Can I have that?” can be answered with “Sure, it’s your money. But are you positive that is where you want to spend it? There might be something better later…” Also, knowing how much you yourself have to spend will save you stress and regret later.

8.  Keep to healthy foods most of the time. (Here I go, sucking out the fun again!) Kids will have more energy, feel better and have a better attitude if they are nourished. And it’s cheaper. Have a basket of fruit available, some whole grain crackers, cheese, peanut butter, popcorn – food with nutrients. Don’t waste valuable vacation time sitting in the drive thru line and arguing over food.

7.  Keep to established routines when you can. Bring along a book for that bedtime story, keep bed time the same, set aside time for their bath. Kids don’t always deal well with change, and vacations are all about change. A few familiar routines will help them feel less stressed. And a full night’s sleep is an absolute necessity if you don’t want an emotional wreck for a kid.

6.  Keep an eye on the little ones. You are in a different environment with new dangers. Distractions abound. Kids on vacation get lost, or get into Grandma’s meds or the local pool. Check out my summer safety tips.

5.  Find interesting things to keep their brains busy. Bored kids whine, and then they find their own version of interesting things. Have a stock of books, games and videos for the car. Bring a journal for them to write in, and art supplies. Explore the area you travel to – Google it before you go. See the sights, hit the museums, find the local artists and craftsmen. Check out ideas to abolish summer boredom.

4.  Keep your own mind open to new and different ways of doing things, so that your kids will do the same. Kids internalize their parent’s judgments, and they will close down their minds and wipe possibilities out of their lives if that is the example you set.

3.  Keep them physically active as well. A tired kid is less stressed, sleeps better, and is not sitting around thinking of ways to get into trouble.

2.  Keep stress to a minimum. Use a GPS if you’re driving: arguments with the navigator have ruined many a vacation. Keep your expectations in line with the actual possibilities, to avoid disapointment. Don’t overschedule – leave time for that relaxing hike and to have a conversation over dinner. Stay within your budget – your hindbrain will know you are overspending and your stress will mount. Stressed out people snap at each other and cannot enjoy time or family.

1.  Align your vacation with your priorities, then toss out the rest. What are the goals of this vacation? Relaxation, family time, memories, enrichment, joy? Plan the vacation and activities that will get you there, and don’t let exhaustion, stress, and fear get in your way. Don’t stop at Uncle Joe’s house if you know he will stress you out; don’t vacation with those friends who overspend or forget to pay their half of the bill. Don’t worry if the kids are getting dirty or if your Aunt Judy wouldn’t approve. Just say no, open up, and relax.

And have a fantastic vacation!

Why Did My Kid React to That Food?

Little chief-cook tasting the carrotKids can have reactions to food for many different reasons. They can be allergic, sensitive, intolerant, or have problems because the food contains poisons or has drug effects.

Food allergies are caused by a child’s immune system reacting to a food, similar to the way they can react to pollen or bug bites. Allergic reactions are usually to the protein in the food rather than the sugar or fat, and are usually immediate. The most common severe reactions are to tree nuts, peanuts, and shellfish. Less severe reactions are most common with cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, and fish.

Celiac disease is in this category. People with celiac are allergic to the gluten protein in wheat and react with their immune system if they are exposed to even a tiny amount. Gluten allergy was worth a whole blog all by itself: A Gluten Free Blog.

80-90% of the time, kids will outgrow allergies to eggs, wheat, milk, and soy by 5 years of age. They outgrow peanut allergies only 20% of the time. (Do NOT experiment with this!) Fewer will outgrow allergies to tree nuts and seafood.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Skin rashes. Hives, or whelps–itchy raised patches with pale centers and red rims. Hives move around, fading in one area to reappear in another. Antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) help the symptoms.
  • Breathing problems. Food reactions can make kids wheeze, make their throats feel tight, and give them sneezing fits.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and  diarrhea.
  • Circulatory symptoms like paleness, lightheadedness, and loss of consciousness.
  • Severe reactions can involve several of these areas, and are called anaphylaxis.

Food sensitivities and intolerances are not allergies. Some children can be sensitive to the common effects of a food and react strongly. For example:

  • Apples, pears and bananas contain pectin and can be constipating (useful if your child has diarrhea). Some children can get stopped up if they eat too many.
  • Dairy products can also constipate–some kids will never poop again if they eat a lot of cheese. (This may be a slight exaggeration.)
  • Sugar can cause diarrhea, so children may have problems if they drink a lot of juice. (Interestingly, we have never been able to prove that sugar makes kids hyper.)
  • Kids can react to dyes and preservatives in foods–they will feel nauseated or tired, and we have proven that red dye can make them hyper.
  • Lactose intolerance is an reaction to the sugar in milk. People who are lactose intolerant are missing the enzyme (lactase) that breaks down the sugar in milk (lactose). They get bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

There are certainly plants that contain toxins (poisons) in themselves–poisonous mushrooms, apple seeds, and belladonna are examples–but most poisonings are accidental, usually from foods that have spoiled:

  • C. Botulinium bacteria grows in improperly canned food and in cans that have rusted through.When we used to give Karo syrup for constipation, the bacteria would grow in Karo left on a cupboard shelf and children would die, paralyzed by the neurotoxin (nerve poison) that the bacteria produced.
  • Staph Aureus can grow in spoiled food and produce a toxin that is usually self limited in its effect, giving kids cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Clostridium perfringens produces a similar toxin, and is frequently the villain in cafeteria incidents and contaminations in soil and sewage.
  • Salmonella can grow in spoiled meat, eggs, and milk and give your child diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
  • E. coli is more likely to grow in beef, but can be found in mishandled produce. Same unpleasant symptoms.
  • Shigella is common in daycare outbreaks. It causes the same nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever, but has the added risk of seizures from the toxin it produces.

Foods can also have drug effects. The best examples of this are drinks (coffee, tea, energy drinks) and food (chocolate) that contain caffeine. Caffeine makes kids restless, shaky, and interferes with their sleep. In large doses, as with energy drinks, it can produce a rapid heartbeat, muscle tremors and seizures. There were 20,783 emergency room visits from energy drinks in 2011; 5 people died after consuming them. The youngest was a 14 year old girl.

Foods can also be irritants. For example, babies can get rashes around their mouths or diaper rashes from acidic foods.

People do not react to a food solely because it is a GMO (genetically modified organism)–GMOs are not something you need to avoid unless you have a reaction to the particular item. GMO wheat produces the same allergens as non-GMO wheat; if you are allergic to one, you will be allergic to the other. Also the subject of an entire blog: What’s the Deal with GMOs?

In conclusion, not every food reaction is a food allergy. Avoidance or treatment of the food reaction varies with the actual cause. If a child has an anaphylactic allergic reaction to peanuts, he or she never needs to be around peanuts again. They may outgrow other allergies. If they get gassy from a lactose intolerance, they can take lactase tablets when they eat dairy. Kids who become constipated with apples or cheese need to limit the number they eat. It is always important for every child to not be fed spoiled food or energy drinks.

Knowing in what way your child reacted to a food determines what you do about it in the future. Knowledge rules.

Domesticated Momster
Rhyming with Wine
Rhyming with Wine

Stuffy Noses Suck: What To Do About Allergies?

sneezing boy-01Allergies happen when a body’s immune defenses overreact to something in the environment. They decide that a molecule of pollen or mold is a dangerous invader and it needs to be killed. Queue the mucus, swelling and itching.

If your child has the tendency to wheeze, queue the airway spasm as well.

If he or she has sensitive skin, also expect an outbreak of dry itchy patches.

If they keep the mucus, swelling and wheezing for a while, they can develop secondary infections like earaches, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Allergies suck.

What triggers allergies? Kids can be allergic to a multitude of things. They can react seasonally to flowers in the spring, to grasses in the summer and fall, or to wood fires and Christmas trees in the winter. Year round allergens include molds, mildews and dust mites (tiny bugs that live in dust and upholstery and feed on flakes of skin). Many children are allergic to pets–especially cats and birds–and react to the pet’s feathers, fur, saliva or skin scale. The poisons in cigarettes are common triggers, as are fumes like perfume and air pollution. Scents and dyes in soaps and detergents can cause allergic reactions.Some kids react to contact with latex or metals like nickel.

Food allergies are different–a whole blog in themselves. Hmmm… maybe next week?

How do we prevent or treat an allergy attack? We can’t cure allergies–all we can do is try to keep them under control. If possible, avoid the allergen:

  • If your child is allergic to cats, don’t buy him or her a kitten. Ditto for birds, dogs, hamsters…
  • Never smoke in your house or car.
  • If the allergy is to pollens, keep your air conditioner on seasonally and buy filters that catch allergens.
  • Dust mites? Cover your child’s mattress and pillow with zip up covers designed to contain them.
  • Don’t use curtains in his or her room, or wash them weekly.
  • Limit stuffed animals to those you can wash in hot water with their bed linens once a week.
  • Vacuum daily (sorry).
  • Dust with a damp cloth (also sorry).
  • Molds? Fix any damp areas in your home. Use that bathroom vent – timers work great, and are easy to install.
  • Clear out vegetation close to the house, and discard any dead plant bits.

Medicines can help prevent allergic reactions. If avoidance is not enough, your munchkin can take an antihistamine as needed to block the allergic reaction. Try to stick with the newer, non-sedating antihistamines: claritin, zyrtec or allegra and their generics.

If an exposure is inevitable (“We have to go to Grandma’s and you know she has that cat!”) you can give them an antihistamine about an hour before.

If they are going to be exposed to their allergy trigger every day for a while (springtime pollen?), they can take the antihistamine every day, if you buy the non-sedating type. If their allergies are chronic, a daily steroid nose spray or a preventative medicine called Singulair (montelukast sodium) can also help prevent the symptoms.

Offer them lots of water to wash the allergens out of their system.

If they still have symptoms, allergy testing can help to pinpoint exactly what they are allergic to, so you know what to avoid or clean up. Knowledge is power. It does no good to find a new home for the cat if the child is only allergic to mold. Poor kitten.

Last, if avoidance and medication are not enough, your physician will bring up the subject of allergy shots to desensitize your munchkin to the allergen. He or she will not be thrilled.

Allergies are miserable, but there are things you can do to make your child more comfortable. Prevent the exposure if you can, and give medication if you can’t–either a short term antihistamine or longer term preventative nasal sprays or montelukast sodium.  Consider allergy testing and shots when those simpler therapies don’t work. And hydrate. Soon, the season will change.