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How to avoid back to school ill health

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Although the summer holidays haven’t even arrived yet, many parents will already be planning for their children’s return back to school after the summer break.

BY Amy Anderson 5 July, 2007

But apart from new uniforms, hair cuts and sharpened pencils, parents can also do a great deal to help prepare and protect their children’s health for the back to school period.

After a summer holiday spent in bare feet out in the open air – a return to a stuffy classroom, heavy, scratchy new school uniforms and the onset of colder damper weather can make ‘back to school’ quite an unhealthy period for children.

Here is a useful guide to the most common ‘back to school’ ailments and how to try and avoid them.

 

Headlice

Problem:

Once children are back at school there is much greater risk of them picking up head lice. Being crammed in a classroom with lots of other children, close contact in games and sport and the fact that lice are very infectious, means your child is likely to pick up head lice during the back to school period.

Prevention:

Check your child’s hair regularly, if you find they do have head lice you will need to check your whole family so they don’t re-infect each other. At school always keep long hair tied back to avoid contact.

The best treatments are over the counter lotions, which can be picked up at your local pharmacy. Once you have treated the hair regularly rub conditioner into wet hair and carefully comb through, making sure you wipe the comb with a paper towel in between each stroke so not to put any lice back in the hair.

Alternative treatments which some people find effective, included Rosemary, Lavender and Tea Tree oil however, little research has been done on their effectiveness or whether these can be toxic if used repeatedly or in the incorrect amount. Some oils can also irritate the skin or may not be suitable for children.

Eczema

Problem:

15% of children have eczema and going back to school is a prime time for a flare up. New school uniforms tend to irritate skin. Sweating in heavy autumn clothes and in stuffy classrooms can also trigger an eczema flare up as can the stress of starting school again, especially if it’s a new school.

Prevention:

Steroids are often prescribed for eczema but they should not be used too often and certainly not a preventative measure in managing your child’s eczema. In addition among other concerns, a potential problem relating to the absorption of steroids is a slowing down of growth in children by suppression of the adrenal gland, so many parents try and avoid the use of steroids as much as possible.

But knowing that the back to school period if a likely time for a flare up, there are other preventives measures that can be taken to try and reduce the severity of a flare up.

Try and buy natural rather than synthetic fabrics for your children’s school uniform which help let the skin breath.

A new natural gel made from cardiospermum (an extract from the balloon vine tree) has been found in a recent UK trial to be more effective for some people than steroids in the treatment of eczema and can help reduce the likelihood of a flare up if used regularly.

The trial was carried out by a doctor, on 50 people, 28 of whom were previously using steroids for their eczema. The trial found that the Cardiospermum Gel was both more effective and significantly more pleasant to use than all existing treatment the patients had tried, including steroids.

Cardiospermum gel has been found to be particularly effective for use on childhood eczema because it is easy and soothing to apply to sore young skin and can be applied as often as required as a daily maintenance cream, which many parents using the gel have found actually helps prevent the eczema from reoccurring.

The UK trial was carried out on Skin Shop’s Cardiospermum Gel.

Colds

Problem:

The autumn back to school months are the start of the winter cold season. Children average 3 to 8 colds per year and most of them occur during the autumn term.

Prevention:

Here are proven ways to reduce exposure to germs

– Wash hands: Children and adults should wash hands at key moments — after nose-wiping, after diapering or toileting, before eating, and before food preparation.

– Use instant hand sanitizers: A little dab will kill 99.99% of germs without any water or towels. It uses alcohol to destroy germs. It is an antiseptic, not an antibiotic, so resistance can’t develop.

– Use paper towels… instead of shared cloth towels.

You can also help strengthen your child’s immune system before returning to school by following these tips:

– Avoid unnecessary antibiotics: The more people use antibiotics, the more likely they are to get sick with longer, more stubborn infections caused by more resistant organisms.

– For babies breast milk is known to protect against respiratory tract infections, even years after the breastfeeding is done. Kids who don’t breastfeed average five -times more colds and flu symptoms than those who do.

– Avoid second-hand smoke: Keep as far away from it as possible! It is responsible for many health problems, including millions of colds.

– Get enough sleep: Late bedtimes and poor sleep leave people vulnerable.

– Drink water: Little bodies need lots of fluids for the immune system to function properly.

– Eat yogurt: The beneficial bacteria in some active yogurt cultures can help prevent colds.

– Take zinc: Children who are zinc-deficient get more infections and stay sick longer.

Cold sores

Problem:

The cold sore virus is so prevalent that virtually all children come in contact with at least one strain of the virus before their fifth birthday.

Cold sores are most likely to occur during times of change or stress which many children will be experiencing when they have to return to school in a new class after their long summer break. The matter is made worse by dirty hands and the spread of the contagious virus from child to child and close knit conditions inside classrooms and shared lunch areas etc.

Prevention:

It is important that you ensure your child keeps their hands clean and always washes their hands after the bathroom as dirty hands will transmit infection.

In addition a new Liquorice Lip Balm could help reduce the frequency and intensity of cold sore outbreaks as it is suitable for daily use on children.

Unlike conventional treatments due to its naturally derived ingredients the balm can be used at all times, meaning that the intensity of the cold sore outbreaks could be diminished before they really have a chance to take hold.

The key cold sore fighting ingredient in liquorice is glycyrrhizic acid (GA). GA specifically targets the genes that are required to maintain the virus in its latent state by interfering with the production of special proteins that feed the infected cells. Recent research published in the US Journal of Clinical Investigation in March this year has shown that liquorice actually has the ability, in some cases, to eradicate the cold sore virus which lies dormant in between outbreaks.

Children can use the balm which is really sweet smelling- so they will love it in the weeks leading up to returning to school to help prevent a cold sore attack.

Verrucas

Problem:

Some activities children participate in at school involve being bare foot, sports, swimming and communal showers – these all increase the risk of spreading and catching verrucas.

Prevention:

Try to keep feet as dry as possible as the virus can spread through wet soggy skin, and where possible encourage children to keep their shoes on. If their verruca becomes so painful they are having difficulty walking, you can buy round pads that you can stick around the verruca to take the pressure off.

Garlic can be used to effectively treat verrucas, it does this by irritating the skin just enough to cause the offending virus to be attacked and destroyed by the body’s immune system.

Garlic can be used either in oil form or fresh cloves. Garlic oil contains virus fighting ingredient that helps with healing, it should be applied to a compress and left on the skin over night. If using fresh garlic you need to crush a clove, apply this to the verruca and tape in place leave for 24 hours and the verruca should blister and fall off.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Problem:

Children suffering ADHD find it extra hard to control their behaviour and to pay attention in class and the problem can become worse after a long summer break away from the restrictions of school.

In addition sudden changes in diet as they return to school dinners and tuck shop snacking could also exacerbate the problem during the back to school period.

Prevention:

Over half of children with ADHD crave sweets and about 70% of these have much more control over their behaviour when their food is low in added sugar.

Therefore, keep your children away from sugary snacks like soft drinks, cakes and sweets. Foods containing artificial colours, artificial flavours and preservatives should also be avoided in order to help improve concentration and behaviour.

However, although it is easy to control your child’s diet if they take a packed lunch, the problem is harder if they have school meals. But try to ensure that breakfast and dinner are as ADHD friendly as possible this can help a lot even if you will not be there at school to ensure they reach out for an apple instead of a doughnut for their lunch.

Children often benefit greatly from the right supplements. The connection between omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and ADHD has been confirmed by studies in which youngsters with ADHD, when compared with non-ADHD children had much lower blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid necessary for normal function of the eyes and the cerebral cortex (the brain region that handles higher functions such as reasoning and memory).

Because of their relative scarceness in many children’s diets-especially the ones on the school dinner menu – the majority of children today are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.

DHA is available in pill form and various formulas can be recommended by your local health food store.

In addition recent research has found that the pine bark extract Pycnogenol ® can significantly improve symptoms of ADHA (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children aged 6-14 years, which some estimates suggest effects up to 50% of all children, and tends to effect boys more than girls.

The double blind placebo controlled study published in May 2006 and included in the current edition of the European Journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, found that daily supplementation with 1mg of Pycnogenol per kg of body weight given at breakfast time for a period of one month to 44 boys and girls age 6-14 years old, significantly improved concentration, lowered hyperactivity and improved visual-motoric coordination.

More intriguingly all the children ceased to be supplemented with Pycnogenol after a period of one month, and were then tested a month later. Researchers found that many of their ADHD symptoms had returned within this period without the daily pine bark supplement.

The findings of this controlled study, overseen by Dr Jana Trebaticka from the Department of Child Psychiatry at the University of Bratislava, Slovakia, confirm earlier reports which describe notable improvements of children with ADHD after taking Pycnogenol.

The authors of the study concluded that further research is warranted, although these initial findings suggest that Pynogenol works by lowering stress hormones in children. The authors also conclude that Pycnogenol might work better for boys with ADHD than girls, and could be a viable alternative treatment for children with ADHD to standard forms of medication, which can often cause negative side effects such as sleep disturbance, reduced appetite and growth suppression.

Pycnogenol is available in health shops nationwide or by mail order from Pharma Nord.

Tummy Bugs

Problem:

The average under five suffers from 3-4 tummy bugs a year and most of them are caught at school.

Prevention:

The best defence against stomach upsets for babies is breast feeding.

For older toddlers and children, the best defence is frequent hand-washing. Teach kids to soap up regularly — especially after potty. Tell them not to share food, drinks, or utensils. If a family member is ill, wash his soiled clothing and linens at once, and disinfect contaminated surfaces with chlorine bleach.

In addition a recent study suggests that cranberry juice may work against gastrointestinal viruses because substances in the juice help prevent the adhesion of certain bacteria to the stomach wall.

Back pain

Problem:

Back to school means back to carrying large bags stuffed with books and packed lunches, and this can lead to painful back problems in young children if they are using the wrong sort of bags.

By the end of their teen years, more than 50% of youths experience at least one lower back pain episode. New research indicates that this increase may be due to the improper use of backpacks and school bags.

The ‘one shoulder’ asymmetric back packs are the worst culprits as they distribute weight unevenly across the shoulders and spine. In addition heavily laden low-slung should strap satchel-type bags also load too much weight on one side of the body putting uneven pressure on the neck, shoulders and spine.

The best option is a two strap back pack with padded straps. The recent craze for children to wear their back packs very low slung on their back may also cause back problems.

Back packs ideally need to be worn fitted snugly to the back, so make sure the weight is spread evenly from both shoulders.

In addition ensure that the weight of your child’s pack does not exceed 15% of their body weight.

You should also try and teach your child to pack his or her backpack by evenly distributing the contents throughout the pack .

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