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.

 

 

 

Springtime Allergies: What to Do?

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.

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

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.

Stuffy and Sneezing? Welcome to Allergy Season!

wheat-01Allergies happen when your immune defenses overreact to something in the environment. They decide that that molecule of pollen 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, sinus and pneumonia.

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 to cats and birds. They can react to the pet’s feathers, fur, saliva or skin scale. The poisons in cigarettes are common triggers, as are fumes like perfume and pollution. Some kids react to contact with latex or metals like nickel.

How do we prevent an 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. Never smoke in your house or car.

Keep your home, especially your child’s room, free of dust. Unfortunately, this is even harder than it sounds. It means keeping your air conditioner on and buying filters that catch allergens. Cover your child’s mattress and pillow with zip up covers designed to contain dust mites. 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.

If your child is allergic to 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

If avoidance is not enough, your munchkin can take an antihistamine as needed. 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 (springtime pollens?), they can take the antihistamine every day, if you buy the non-sedating type. If their allergies are chronic, a daily nose spray can also help prevent the symptoms.

Allergy testing can help to pinpoint what the allergen is, 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 kitty.

Last, if avoidance and medicine are not enough, your physician will bring up the subject of allergy shots