All the Answers about Sunscreen: Why? Which one? How much? How do I pronounce Octocrylene?

little cute girl near the pool with a circle for swimming

Octocrylene. Octo (like the lady with 8 kids) – cry- lean.

Hmm.

Sunscreens have been around forever, mostly in the form of plants and dirt people rubbed onto their skin. Not terribly effective, sadly. Ancient Egyptians used aloe vera, extracts of rice, and pounded out calcite and clay to protect their skin. In the Philippines borak was used – made from water weeds, rice and spices. Zinc oxide has been around for thousands of years.

The first synthetic sunscreens were created in the 1920s, and were made commercially available by L’Oreal in 1936.

Sunscreen became more popular after WWII, when we sent a bunch of pale skinned soldiers to the Pacific Islands. Ouch.

These original sunscreens are estimated to have had an SPF of about 2. Also not terribly effective.

 

Why do we use sunscreen?

We use sunscreens to prevent sunburn, skin cancer, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.

The incidence of melanoma has increased in the 15-39 year age range by 3% per year since the 90’s. It is the 2nd most common cancer for women in their twenties, 3rd for men. Dr Sophie J. Balk (Former Chairperson, AAP Committee on Environmental Health) writes that this was caused by the thinning ozone layer, the fact that people are wearing less clothing, intentional tanning, and tanning beds.

Skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and possibly basal cell carcinoma can be prevented by using sunscreen – if you use the right one in the right way.

 

Who should use sunscreen?

Everybody.

It is especially important for children and people with fair skin, fair eyes, freckles, sun sensitivity, moles, or a family history of melanoma.

But really, everybody.

 

The Science: What Does the Damage?

Sunlight has wavelengths between 290-3200 nm; the light that we see, or “visible light” runs between 380 to 740 nanometers. Wavelengths in the top, violet part of the rainbow are 380-450 nm, so the wavelengths shorter than violet are called “Ultraviolet.”  UVB rays are the 290-320 range (about 5% of the total); UVA rays are 320-400 (95% of the total).

UVB rays burn, leaving you with redness and pain, and these were traditionally the rays we tried to block. UVB does contribute to skin cancer but since it does not penetrate as deeply as UVA it seems to not be the cause of the most deadly of skin cancers, the melanomas.

UVA light does not cause reddening or pain, and most conventional sunscreens do not block it. It does however penetrate deeply into the skin to cause the damage to DNA in cells (melanocytes) that can lead to melanoma.

UVB is more intense midday (from 10AM – 2PM), in the summer, closer to equator, and at high altitude. UVA light is constant through the day and year.

Window glass absorbs UVB, not UVA.

Both reflect off water, sand, snow, and concrete to increase exposure.

UVB and UVA penetrate water to a depth of about 60 cm (about 3 feet).

 

How to protect yourself from these evil rays?

Best, of course, is to avoid them. Stay out of the sun, especially between 10AM and 4PM.

Cover up. Light weight, long sleeved shirts and long pants are protective while they are dry. There is a UPF rating for fabrics, from UPF 15-50. Above 30 is considered sun protective, and more is better. There are swim shirts for kids that are protective even when wet.

Wear a hat with a brim.

Wear sunglasses with 99% UR protection.

Use sunscreen. Sunscreens absorb or reflect the sun’s ultraviolet rays, depending on the ingredients.

  • Sunscreens come in lotions, gels, or sprays.
  • They generally last about 3 years on the shelf.
  • SPF should be 30 or higher.
  • The words “broad spectrum” should be on the label, since only these have UVA protection that is proportional to the UVB protection.
  • The only chemical sunscreens available in the US that protect from UVA are avobenzone (which can be irritating and allergy producing) and Mexoryl SX and XL, available only from L’Oreal (they have a patent). Outside of the US, Tinosorb S & M and Uvinul A Plus block UVA. Mineral sunscreens also block UVA.
  • Look for “water resistance” on the label as well, especially if you will be swimming or sweating.
  • Apply sunscreen 20 min before exposure so that it has time to form a thin, even, protective film.
  • Apply 2 mg/cm2: this is about 2 tbsp for the average adult (about a shot glass, per the Dermatology Association), and about 1/4 tsp for the face. If you put on less, you get proportionately less protection.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hrs or if you sweat, swim, or rub it off; stronger sun screens do not last longer and while newer sunscreens are very photostable, they do still rub off.

Sunscreens come in two basic forms, and combinations of the two forms.

Mineral (physical, inorganic) sunscreens include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They are usually better for sensitive skin, but they can leave a white cast and tend to be thick. They work more by reflecting sunlight, although they do absorb some. They do block UVA as well as UVB – zinc oxide more effectively than titanium dioxide.

The second type is Chemical or Organic sunscreens. They apply more like moisturizer and don’t leave a white cast. They work by absorbing sunlight’s high energy rays, although they do scatter and reflect some in the same way as mineral sunscreens.

Common Chemical/Organic sunscreens in the US:

  • P-Aminobenzoic acid
  • Padimate O
  • p-Aminobenzoic acid
  • Cinoxate
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Oxybenzone
  • Menthyl anthranilate
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate
  • Sulisobenzone
  • Trolamine salicylate
  • Avobenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Octyl salicylate
  • Ecamsule
  • Homosalate
  • Mexoryl SX & XL

Common questions about sunscreen:

For much of this information I have to thank LabMuffin, because I am no chemist. She is a PhD chemist who educates on the chemistry behind skin and beauty products. She is amazing, and I highly recommend checking her out!

Don’t kids need sunshine to make vitamin D?

Yes, but they only need 5-30 minutes in the sunshine about twice a week, depending on their skin tone. Also, vitamin D is in milk and comes in pill form.

Should we worry about nanoparticles from mineral sunscreens?

The nanoparticles made from grinding up the mineral sunscreens (so they don’t look white on the skin) are too big to penetrate the stratum corneum and get to live skin cells.

What ingredients are the most irritating or allergic?

  • Avobenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Oxybenzone
  • PABA
  • Padimate O
  • Enzacamene

Which ingredients are the least likely to break down in sunlight?

  • Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M (not in the US yet, hopefully soon!)
  • L’Oreal’s Mexoryl SX and Mexoryl XL
  • Mineral sunscreens

But don’t sunscreens have hormonal effects?

Yes, some of the chemical/organic ones do, but very little. One of the worst is oxybenzone, and to have a hormonal effect we would have to use it continuously for 277 years. Enzocamine, Padimate O, octinoxate, and homosalate also have hormonal effects in minuscule amounts.

Don’t some medicines make people react more to sunlight? 

Yes. A short list of meds on which you should avoid sunlight:

  • NSAIDS (ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • tretinoin (retinols)
  • tetracyclines
  • phenothiazines
  • psoralins
  • sulfonamides
  • thiazines

Aren’t there plants that make people burn more easily?

Yes. Plants that produce furocoumarins, like limes, can cause a burn and hyperpigmentation when exposed to sunlight.

Can I use a sunscreen/insect repellent combination product?

The AAD recommends purchasing and using these products separately — sunscreen needs to be applied generously and often, whereas insect repellant should be used sparingly and much less frequently.

Are sprays safe and effective?

Current FDA sunscreen regulations do not apply to sprays, so I don’t know. They should not be used near heat or open flame (no smoking!), and should not be inhaled.

What will the UV index for tomorrow be? Check out www.weather.com.

 

What those labels mean:

SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor,” and measures sunburn producing UVB rays. The number is how much burning radiation penetrates through the sunscreen. An SPF of 20 means that 1/20th of the rays reach the skin. Above an SPF of 50 you don’t see any real difference.

SPF Equivalence requires UVA protection of at least 1/3 the SPF for UVB. This labeling is seen more in Europe.

PPD is “Persistant Pigment Darkening.”

Star ratings are used in UK and Ireland, between 1 and 5 stars.

PA is “Protection Grade of UVA”, used in Asia, between PA+ to PA++++.

If “Water resistance” is on the label, it should say whether it is resistant to swimming or sweating and for how long.

 

If you can, please share this blog. The sun is shining outside and sunscreens can be very confusing!

 

Why I Care About Women’s Reproductive Rights

 

Young Teenage Girl Standing And Looking On Empty Picture Frame

My grandmother came to the United States from Ireland as a young woman in 1911. She was already married with five children, my mother two years into her future, when women got the right to vote in 1922. She worked her entire life and everything she worked for – her money, her home, her children, even her own body – was owned by her husband.

My mother was born in 1924. The youngest of six living children, she was expected to become a nurse so that she could care for her parents as they aged. Her older sister had taken the Nun option, so her choices were nurse, teacher, or wife. She ran away and married a young man in the Army Air Corps in the middle of World War II, and was promptly disowned by her family for a decade.

She gave birth to three children in the first three years of her marriage, two living and one dead. She was Catholic, and birth control was not permitted.

She was losing her mind. She went to her priest and begged for a dispensation to use birth control because she couldn’t bear the thought of becoming pregnant again and she did not have the right to refuse her husband sex. The priest told her no, that God wouldn’t give her more than she could bear.

She found herself pregnant again in the forth year of her marriage.

She was at the beach in Cape Cod that summer with her two small sons. She told me once that she remembered thinking that if she swam out as far as she was physically able she would not be able to make it back, and it would be over. She was in the middle of doing that when she looked back and saw her sons playing alone on the beach.

She came back in.

I was born in 1959. My options as a child were the same – nurse, teacher, mother – but times were changing. The world was opening up.

Birth control was available, and with it came possibilities.

Back then, women fought for every breath of freedom, every tiny kernel of respect. My father told me he “wasn’t going to waste his money educating a girl”? I could work 3 jobs. My teacher told me he’d never given an ‘A’ to a girl in math and I “sure as hell wasn’t going to be the first”? I could fight. The dean at UVA med school told me he wasn’t going to waste his time interviewing a female? There were other schools.

If we were strong enough, and determined enough, and angry enough, there were possibilities, now that we had control over our own bodies.

It’s hard to fight when you are pregnant with two small children clinging to your skirt.

My father frequently joked to my brothers that women should be kept “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.” Not much of a joke, really. If you have no resources, are having babies every year, and are overwhelmed with responsibility, you will never have any possibilities in your life.

It is 2018 now.

I thought we were past this. I thought women were believed, at least on the surface, to be equal. But now we are limiting access to birth control, shutting down women’s health care centers, and trying to outlaw abortion.

We are pretending this is a religious issue, that we are doing it because we believe abortion is wrong–when what it is really about is control over women. If we truly wanted to prevent abortions we would strive for easily accessible, free birth control and sex ed in schools. We would punish rapists in the court system. We would respect women’s voices. We would not strive to take away their control over what is happening inside their own bodies.

Amendment 2 on the Alabama ballot on November 6th outlaws all abortion–with no exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the mother’s life.

Outlawing abortion only outlaws safe and legal abortion. Before abortion was made legal, hundreds of thousands of women had illegal abortions every year. Between 200 and 2700 of these women died, depending on the year. Hospitals had abortion wards that would fill up on Monday mornings with women dying from trauma and sepsis, leaving children behind.

When it was illegal women still had abortions, because sometimes there is no other choice and it is worth risking death. Just ask my mom, swimming out to sea.

The best and most effective way to control women is to keep them barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Just ask my dad.

Then vote No to Amendment 2.

 

4th of July: 10 Tips to Stay out of the ER

Sunshine, 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.

What Chores Do I Give Which Child?

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning in

Last week’s blog was about why children need to do chores. But how do you know what chores to give which child? The choice will depend on what needs to be done in your household and what they are physically and developmentally capable of.

Give children some chores that teach them to be responsible for themselves and some that contribute to the family as a whole.

Adjust them for their age and ability.

  • Eighteen- month-olds can pick up toys and hand them to you to throw into the toy box—and then get a hug.
  • Four-year-olds can dust, and be rewarded with applause.  Little ones will actually enjoy chores and be happy with your admiration as their reward,  although you might have to fix their work later. Mine helped me paint a wall once…
  • By eight or ten, they should be independent enough to leave them alone with a small chore. They can take out the trash, vacuum, or unload the dishwasher, which should be followed by a thank you and a hug. They will feel less inspired, so don’t forget the reward! Hugs rule.
  • Preteens live in constant fear of embarrassment, and chores need to be adjusted accordingly. They like to know, in detail, what is expected of them, when it is expected, and exactly how you want things done. They never want to do something wrong and be ridiculed. Coolness rules. I have had preteens tell me they didn’t know what “poop” was and had no idea how to stick out their tongue and say “ahh.” They fear doing it wrong. Be patient and explain things exactly. Use the preteen years to teach skills they will need later. They are able enough to learn basic cooking, laundry, and housekeeping skills, but they are still young enough that they don’t yet have the overwhelming schedules of teenagers.
  • For any age, add no more than one new chore at a time so they won’t feel overwhelmed.

Chores are an invaluable parenting tool. Without them, your children will not be whole and balanced, and they might be less appealing. Chores allow your children to participate in the family and help it function. They teach your children to be responsible for themselves and manage their time. Work teaches them appreciation for what others do for them—and for the things they have. Accomplishments nurture pride in self and in their abilities. Chores teach skills they will need throughout their lives.

Your progeny should, of course, be adequately rewarded for their work by the joy of being able to contribute to the family and by the skills they have learned. This does not seem to be the case.

Allowance helps.

Why Children Need Chores

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning inChores are simple jobs that routinely need to be done in and around the house. They come in all sizes and shapes, and there are a wide enough variety to suit any child’s age and abilities.

Chores are a great way to teach your children many of the skills they need to know to take care of themselves as adults, while also teaching them to take responsibility for a job and feel pride in work successfully completed.

Probably the most important reason for doing chores, though, is simply that they are members of your family and they need to participate.

There are many little jobs that need to get done during the day, and it is fair for every member of the family to do their part. By doing so, they invest in the success of the family as a whole.

The investment can be as simple as helping to make dinner or putting their dirty laundry in the basket. Every little duty adds up, creating a whole in which people depend upon and trust one another. “I’ll make dinner, you fold the laundry, and Meg can walk the dog.” Families function when the members work together as a team. Later, when they need help, they will call family. When family needs help, they will come. As they work together, they strengthen bonds and create memories and emotions that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

If your children do not do their parts, a link in the chain is broken. “You give to me, but I don’t give back” does not make for a long-lasting relationship. Ask any family in which one child was favored above the others.

Work Bestows Value

Even if we aren’t planning to be a close-knit family later, it is a human truth that we need to pay for what we receive. An oddity of the human mind is that it does not appreciate what it gets for free.

Allowance that is granted as a gift can be thrown away; allowance that is worked for is treasured. We are proud of having earned it, and we are more careful of how we spend it. It has value.

Watch your children’s faces when they see the results of work that produced something that the family needed. They will make sure you know all about the work they did. They washed those carrots and picked out the best ones! You will see pride of accomplishment–value added to their own self esteem.

Your children receive things for being members of your family. You give them shelter, food, and video games. It will be easier for them to appreciate the work other people do for them if they have also done work. If they do not learn to appreciate what they are given, they will grow up to be jerks. You want people to like your children—and nobody likes jerks. Give them work.

Responsibility

Chores are also a great way to learn responsibility. The most obvious chore is cleaning up after themselves. Toddlers can pick up their toys; six-year-olds can dust and bring their dishes to the sink, and ten-year-olds can put away their laundry. Teenagers should be capable of anything, but they are limited by their busy schedules.

Let them know how much you appreciate their work. Since they saved you all that time, now you can do something fun together! They will remember the satisfying feeling and be more likely to do it again, maybe with less argument.

Skills

Chores also teach useful skills. My son was the only guy in his freshman dorm that knew how to do his own laundry. Kids who know how to cook can feed themselves. Knowing how to clean can keep them healthy. A parent’s desire to take care of their children and be reassured that they themselves are needed can sometimes interfere with their children’s need to learn. They will be happy to let you do all the work. Don’t allow them.

One of the skills they learn by doing chores is time management, so give them a time limit to get the job done. They will learn all about the evils of procrastination. “Sorry, hon, you can’t go over to John’s house because you haven’t finished your chores yet.”

Exercise

Chores also get kids off their bottoms and away from the television, which is always a good thing. Make sure some of their chores involve physical work. A three-year-old can run back and forth, bringing you items to put in the toy box. An eight-year old can help you wash the car. For a teen, yard work and mopping are good. Letting them figure out how to get it done will exercise their brains as well.

Chores Mimic Real Life

Chores give kids a chance to earn things above what you feel are their needs. If you are willing to pay for the plain bike and they want the fancy one, they can earn the difference. Name brand clothes are a want, not a need, and their savings can bridge the gap. They will appreciate the items more because of the work they invested, and they will take better care of them.

Make a chore chart and put it up somewhere visible. The basics earn them their allowance; extra chores earn points toward something they want but do not need.

Arguing for a higher dollar value per point will teach them negotiating skills.

Doing chores prepares kids for real life. Knowing how to work, how to do work well the first time, and how to not procrastinate will serve them well in the workplace. Which employee would you prefer if you were hiring: the one who whined and weaseled his way out of chores his whole life or the one who gets things done quickly with minimal supervision? Which would you fire first?

In real life, work is how you get money, and money is how you pay rent. The other option is moving back to your parents’ basement.

But what chores for which kid? Check out What Chores do I Give Which Kid?

How to Raise a Puppy You Will Like as a Dog

Cute girl and her dog friend

The first blog in this series was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family. Last week’s was about the various ways pets can make your kids sick, and what to do about them. Since the most common pet by far is the dog, this week’s blog is all about how to raise a dog that will be a joy to have as a member of the family.

Your Own Dog

It is more than possible to raise a dog of your own that doesn’t have bad habits or bite. First, consider your choice carefully. There are sites on the Internet that will allow you to select characteristics like size, energy level, or amount of grooming needed for different breeds. The AKC has one such search engine; Animal Planet has another. If your children are young and crazy, you might do better with a mellow dog rather than one with a lot of energy. The same is true if the dog won’t get much exercise.

If you would consider a rescue, there are thousands of animals in rescue that need families. If you have a specific breed in mind, there are rescue agencies that specialize in most breeds. Many wonderful animals of all ages and types lose their families through no fault of their own, especially during an economic downturn or after a natural disaster.

If you decide you want to buy from a breeder, be careful to avoid puppy mills. Never buy from a pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who breeds only healthy dogs with good temperaments and who will socialize the puppy while it is in their care. Check with the national club for the breed you want; they will have a list of trustworthy breeders. Ask for references.

A careful breeder will screen the sire and dam for hip dysplasia, elbow abnormalities, heart defects, and eye problems. Some breeds have additional screenings as well. These tests are expensive, and if the dog fails, the breeder loses any potential litters. Puppy mills generally do not do those screenings. A good breeder will have copies of those clearances available; also, they can be verified at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org). Pedigrees can be verified at AKC.org and K9data.com. A reputable breeder will also carefully screen you because he or she will not want the puppy to go to an inadequate home.

Once you have an energetic, slobbering puppy, it is vital that you train it so you will not have an energetic, slobbering adult dog.

  • Socialize it. Let it meet people of all sizes and behaviors, and lots of different animals. Give it lots of love and exercise. Never kick or hit it.
  • When you are with your dog, be calm and carry yourself with good posture. Move slowly. Canines have been with us for millennia; they can read our posture sometimes better than other humans can. Speak in a relaxed fashion. Dogs consider children to be puppies and will tolerate a lot of hyperness in two-legged puppies as long as their adult human is steady.
  • Neuter/spay your dog. Unneutered males are more aggressive; unsprayed females will bite when in heat or when protecting their puppies.
  • Keep it on a leash when you are outside your yard, and within a home, crate, or fenced area otherwise. If there are things you do not want your adult dog to do, like begging at the table or jumping on you, don’t allow your puppy to do them. If there are things you do want it to do, like coming when called, sitting, or walking on a leash, be consistent with your expectations and reward good behavior. Is this all starting to sound a bit like parenting your child?
  • Never chain your dog, and limit the time it spends in a crate. Too much time in a crate makes a dog crazy.

So, with all these problems, why do we keep pets? The unconditional love and companionship are priceless, but there are other benefits as well.

Pets teach children about loss and death. They learn that all living things die, that it is all right to be sad, and that it won’t hurt so much in time. Later, when a bigger loss comes into their lives, they will not be completely blindsided.

Kids with dogs get more exercise and are less likely to be overweight, and caring for an animal teaches responsibility. Pets will also teach social skills; the way children interact with a pet translates into behavior with friends and family. They learn to be calm and quiet and treat the pet gently, or it will shy away. They learn that if they are caring, attentive, and invest their time, they will be paid back with love and trust–exactly the traits that will gain your children friends and long-term happiness.

Come back next week for info on how to train your children to behave around dogs (even if they don’t have one) so that they can avoid being bitten.

10 Ways Pets Can Make Your Kids Sick

Cute girl and her dog friendLast week’s blog was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family. Got one in mind yet? Read below first, about the various ways pets can make your kids sick, and what to do about them.

Allergies

If there is a family history of allergies, asthma or eczema, find out if your children are allergic to the particular pet before you commit. Allergy testing for cats and dogs is readily available, just ask your pediatrician.

Arrange a play date with the same type of animal and look for sneezing, red eyes, and itchiness afterward.  If you are considering a particular dog, visit with that dog because allergens vary greatly from dog to dog. Even less allergy-inducing breeds like Poodles or Portuguese Water Dogs named Bo can actually trigger allergy symptoms in some children. Kids can be allergic to the saliva and skin flakes as well as the fur.

If you already have a pet that your children are allergic to, keep that pet out of their bedrooms, damp dust and vacuum frequently, and wash the pet weekly. Additionally, air filters will capture a significant portion of allergens.

Illness

Most germs prefer to attack the host they have evolved to infect. It is most common for the germs to stay with their preferred host, so you are much more likely to get sick going to the store or daycare where other humans hang out than you are petting your dog. Taking that as given, there are some illnesses that pets can give to humans.

  • Even fish, isolated as they are, can cause problems. They can raise the humidity in your house and make life happier for molds and dust mites.
  • Turtles can carry salmonella, which will cause diarrhea. Kids need to be good at washing their hands if they have a turtle, and the turtle needs to be kept far from the kitchen. No bathing that turtle in the kitchen sink!
  • Birds can carry salmonella. Interestingly, salmonella is becoming a much more common problem now that people are keeping back yard chickens. Wash those hands after handling the birds or changing their food and water! Birds can also carry Chlamydophila psittaci, which causes psittacosis, a rare kind of pneumonia. I’ve been looking for a case for decades without success.
  • Cats and dogs can both bring in fleas and ticks, and can harbor ringworm (a fungus) on the skin. Both can be prevented with basic pet care.
  • Cats can carry toxoplasma, which can cause birth defects in human infants if Mom catches it while she is pregnant. Obstetricians always warn pregnant women not to clean out kitty litter boxes. I personally had no problem letting my husband clean the litter box.
  • Kittens can carry Bartonellosis in their claws, which can cause the fairly rare “cat scratch fever,” or infected lymph nodes. That one I have seen a few times. Grown-up cats don’t carry it, thankfully.
  • Cats also carry Pasturella in their mouths, and cat bites can occasionally become infected.
  • Most of the bacteria, worms, and parasites that dogs can become infected with are self-limiting in humans. Our immune systems throw them out without diffculty. People who have poor immune systems (small children, the elderly, kids on chemotherapy, or those whose immune systems don’t work well) can be less tolerant, and we do occasionally see problems in otherwise healthy children.
  • There are a few uncommon infections from dogs and cats that they can share. Toxocara cani (or cati, in cats) is a roundworm that rarely infects humans, but it is ugly when it does, causing problems with eyes, hearts, and livers, including blindness and death. It can also be caught from dirt as a soil contaminant. Puppies can carry cryptosporidium, a protozoan that can cause diarrhea. Leptospira (a spirochete bacteria) can cause damage to the liver, spleen, and kidneys when water is contaminated.

The solution to avoiding most of these diseases is to keep your pet healthy, use flea and tick preventative, and give monthly heartworm pills.

Also, don’t let them drink contaminated water.

Since dogs are the most popular pets, and cats sort of train themselves, next week’s blog is all about how to raise a dog that will be joy to have in the family, rather than a shoe-chewing brat.

 

 

 

6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family

boy with baloon2-01In the United States, 70 percent of households have pets – more households have pets than have children. In our culture pets seem to speak more to a need than a want, and all the debate over whether or not they are a good idea doesn’t really seem to matter when we come home to that wagging tail and happy bark. Or meow. Or squeak.

The most common pet, currently in 39 percent of US households is—surprise!—the dog. There are almost 80 million pet dogs in the United States.

Dogs have been part of our lives since we depended on them to help us survive as early hunter-gatherers. One of the things that made us such a unique species, along with our big brains and opposable thumbs, was our ability to domesticate other species.  (I personally have an addiction to golden retrievers. I currently have five. Yes, they shed a lot.)

Following closely behind canines at 33 percent of US households and 86 million total are cats. Fewer households have one, but those that do tend to have more than one. After cats come rodents (hamsters and guinea pigs), lagomorphs (rabbits), birds (canaries, parakeets), reptiles (snakes and lizards), fish, and frogs.

How do you choose what type of pet to get?

Your children will be happy to choose for you. They probably already have one in mind.

Some general issues when choosing a pet:

  • Consider the age and maturity of your children. In general, a two- or three-year-old will be too aggressive for a pet. They tend to grab and hit rather than snuggle. We
    in pediatrics generally say that the best age for children to get a sibling is at about four. The same probably applies to a pet. It is possible to teach four-year-olds to be gentle, and they are able to help with feeding and grooming (of the pet, not the sibling).
  • If young children desperately want a personal pet consider a pocket pet, such as a hamster or a frog. Small, short-lived pets have less of a personal connection and are a better idea if your children are less responsible than you would like. A dead frog is very sad, but not as heartbreaking as a dead dog.
  • Consider your living environment. A small condo is not a great place for an energetic border collie, but a hamster is (mostly) self-contained.
  • If a family member is allergic, a cat is not a good idea. Fish might be good.
  • If you move frequently or travel often, it will impact on your decision.
  • Cost is a huge issue. The average lifetime cost of having a dog is between seven and thirteen thousand dollars; cats cost between eight and eleven thousand dollars over their lifetimes.

Still thinking about getting a pet after that appalling total lifetime cost? Money magazine wrote that the lifetime cost of a human child is around $241 thousand. See? A dog is a bargain!

Hmm.

Come back next week for info on allergies and the illnesses that pets can carry!

Oh My Heartsie Girl

Misadventures in Pottying

Baby in diaper-01The last two week’s blogs have been all about potty training: how to know when your child is ready, and how to go about training them. This week is about when things do not go well–bedwetting, accidents, refusal, and relapses. So what do we do when our efforts are less than successful? When all our hopes and dreams go splat in the night? Read on!

Bedwetting

Nighttime dryness tends to be in the DNA and is related to how deeply your children sleep rather than their actual intent. One in five children still wet the bed at age five, and anything that 20 percent of children do has to be defined as normal. Most kids are dry by age seven. Until then, consider pull-ups at night, or a mattress cover. Limit drinks an hour or so before bedtime because what comes in must go out. Hit the bathroom before you tuck them in.

Bedwetting is not bad behavior or a failure in parenting, and treating it as such can damage your children’s self-esteem. They cannot make themselves sleep less deeply. They can, of course, take responsibility and help with cleaning up and laundry.

If it persists at age seven, discuss it with your pediatrician. Once your child is old enough, bedwetting alarms can teach them to wake when they start to urinate, and have no side effects. The alarms that vibrate work better than the sound ones, because the whole issue is that they are very deep sleepers. Alarms are ridiculously expensive.

Accidents

Never punish accidents; it always backfires. Never punish disinterest. If you want to be potty training for the next five years, punishment is the way to get there. Responsibility is fine: they can throw away the old diapers and get out new clothes, or help to clean themselves up as much as they are able. Don’t even think of punishing a failure. They will do better next time.

Refusal

Toddlers will occasionally flat out refuse to use the potty. Sometimes this is an independence issue: not just “I can do it myself” but “I can do it myself anywhere I choose to.” This is more common when people try to potty train when their lives are in turmoil. Children want to control the one thing they can control.

Sometimes the only thing you can do when this happens is wait until later and try again after things settle down.

If the refusal is not too bad, sometimes you can overcome it:

  • Treat using the potty as a routine task that must be done, like brushing your teeth.
  • Rewards are given after the task is completed, not before.
  • Ramp up the fun factor: toilet paper squares decorated with targets is available. Aiming for fruit loops is a traditional winner. I know I said food rewards are a bad idea, but I can testify that one M&M for every potty use results in very frequent visits to the potty. I am a hypocrite. Sad.

Sometimes kids are downright terrified of the potty. Again you may just have to wait it out and try again later. They seem to feel that they are loosing a part of themselves to the yawning, abysmal plumbing. Reassure them and be patient. Throwing the contents of diapers into the potty can help: show them that this is where the poop goes. Tell them all about the poo-poo party that awaits it at the end of the journey. It would be very sad if their poo had to miss the poo-poo party. Poor, sad poo-poo. (I know, but sometimes it works.)

Relapses

They will also occasionally regress when they are stressed. A completely potty-trained munchkin will start having accidents when they are ill, when there is a new baby, or when there is a family crisis.

Even more frustrating is when they relapse because they have figured out the whole potty thing and are now bored with it. Amp up the fun and the rewards, and let them take responsibility for their action—or lack of action. They can help clean themselves up, put the poop in the toilet, and get themselves new clothes. Be sure to mention the reward they could have had, but have now missed. No punishment please!

Kids may also miss when they are uncomfortable in a strange new place, until they understand what they should do. Tell them there is a bathroom in the store where you are shopping; mention that if they have to potty at a friend’s house, just tell the mom or dad, and they will show him and her where the potty is.

Even when children have achieved the necessary milestones and you have used these techniques, the bottom line is that children will train when they are ready and not before. They need to understand what’s happening in their bodies and be able to let you know about it. They have to dislike having a wet diaper on and want the independence of doing it themselves. If it’s not fun and rewarding for them, they will quit—and you can’t win that battle.

Talk to other parents because potty training can drive you crazy, and craziness is better when shared, and because there are an abundance of ideas out there for how to inspire your toddler to hit that target. And don’t forget to have a potty party when they succeed.

Potty Training: How to Set Kids Up for Success

Baby in diaper-01Last week’s blog was the first installment on the Perils of Potty Training: how to know when your munchkin is ready. This week gives you some tried and tested How To’s, when everything goes as planned.

The first thing you need to do when your children are ready is to decide what words you will use. Remember that whatever words you choose will be shouted loudly at very inconvenient times in public places. Please be anatomically correct and as polite as possible.

Just one aside: potty training increases your children’s vocabulary in interesting ways. If you don’t want to be called a “poo-poo head” for the next year, don’t laugh when they say it the first time. Don’t look shocked, either—they love that.

Second thing to do: buy the potty. They come as either self-contained units or as attachments to the grown-up potty. Choose which style you want, and make sure it is sturdy and their feet have somewhere secure to set down. Then let the child choose the specific model.  We’re looking for pride of ownership here. This is his or her pottyThey can even decorate it.

Schedule some time for them to sit on it just for fun, as often as every quarter hour. Let them sit on it when you model how you use your potty, if you chose the self-contained style. Sitting on it should be fun for them; have special potty toys and books in the vicinity.

When you want them to use it for its designed purpose, put them on it at least every two hours. More often is fine, but don’t stress them out. Remember that the goal is fun, not anxiety. Put them on the potty after meals (we all poop after we eat), when they first wake, before naps, and at bedtime. Put them on the potty quickly when they show signs of needing to go. You know the signs: the pee-pee dance, hands on the groin, grimacing, sometimes a red face. Go sit them on the potty and read that special potty-only book. If you can go too, it will help. Lead by example, as always.

If it works, celebrate! Jump up and down; tell them they’re wonderful. Note that they must feel better now that they’ve urinated or pooped, and isn’t it great that they’re not wet? Aren’t they so much more comfortable? Let them call relatives and friends to tell them the news. Make sure they know that they should be very proud of themselves.

When they consistently use the potty, you can trade in the diapers for training pants. Big kid underwear! Another celebration! I knew one little girl whom I swore only trained because she didn’t want to pee on the mermaid on her undies.

Ahh ahh ahh, ahh ahh ahh… ohhh nooo. Poor Ariel.

What to do if things don’t go as planned and problems occur? Come back next week, of course!

The Blogger's Pit Stop