Ask the experts: What common childhood illnesses should parents know about?
By Kristy Bleizeffer Jan 13, 2017
Snow and wind aren’t the only surefire signs of a Wyoming winter. This is the season for runny noses, barking coughs and fits of sneezing – especially in children.
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It is normal for kids to contract six to eight colds or other bugs in a year, and this time of year is particularly hard, said Dr. Ketura Talbot, a family practice physician with Mesa Primary Care. Many kids are in school or daycare, packed in with other kids, and not afraid to touch anything and everything they can get their little hands on. Add to that their young bodies, and you’ve got a perfect vector for spreadable germs.
“Kids have immature immune systems,” Talbot said. “Part of the way the immune system works is by exposure. The more it sees, the more it learns, the more illnesses it’s able to fight. Kids haven’t had that chance to learn to fight yet, and so they are more susceptible to the bugs that as adults we can fight back against.” Below, Talbot discusses four common childhood illnesses parents should know about.
Caused by a parainfluenza virus, croup starts much like a cold does: “Children get a runny nose, congestion and cough, but it can quickly develop into more of a hoarseness to your voice,” Talbot said. “It sounds like a barky cough, kind of like a seal and what we call strider – a high pitched inhale sound as kids are breathing. This can progress to trouble with breathing and respiratory difficulty, so we keep a close eye on it.”
- How it’s treated: “A lot of times it’s mild, it will pass in three to seven days. If it does progress, then we have some medications to treat it,” Talbot said. These include oral steroids in severe cases, and a cool-mist vaporizer may help loosen dried mucous or sooth inflammation.
- Ask for help: “Anytime a kid is struggling to breathe, they need to be seen by their provider,” Talbot said. “If they sound like that their breathing is stuck in their throat or they are working really hard to get air or to move, it’s time to seek medical help.”
2. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV
Common this time of year, RSV infects the lungs and breathing passages. Most healthy people who contract it experience mild, cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, fever or wheezing. Infantsmay be irritable and/or lethargic.
- How it’s treated: While there is no specific treatment or vaccination for RSV, most cases do not require hospitalization and go away within one to two weeks. Those who are admitted to the hospital get supportive care and are usually released within a few days.
- Ask for help: RSV can be serious in children, particularly infants, and is the most common cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis in children younger than 1. Look for difficulty breathing, loss of appetite or color changes. “Tell your provider if their fever has stayed up for two to three days and is not improving, or if there is any sign that they’re just not getting better,” Talbot said.
3. Fifth Disease
This is a mild rash caused by parvovirus B19. Symptoms of Fifth Disease include a fever, runny nose and headache, followed by a red rash on your cheeks and face. This is often called “slapped cheek” rash. It can then spread to the chest, back buttocks or arms and legs.
- How it’s treated: It typically goes away on its own after seven to ten days, but can linger for a few weeks. Manage symptoms to make your child comfortable.
- Ask for help: If your child has a weakened immune system, consult with your doctor.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the respiratory system. Symptoms begin as a low-grade fever and muscle and joint aches, but develops into uncontrollable coughing spells followed by deep, whooping inhales.
- How it’s treated: Antibiotics may reduce the severity of the infection and prevent its spread. A cool-mist vaporizer can soothe breathing passages and loosen mucus. “In conditions like pertussis, which is also a respiratory illness, we developed a vaccine to help prevent it. If we are able to get these to the kids and get it taken care of young, we can prevent them getting a severe illness,” Talbot said.
- Ask for help: Again, anytime your child struggles to breathe, has a fever sustained over a couple of days and does not appear to be improving, consult with your doctor or seek medical attention.
Dr. Talbot is board certified in family medicine. She grew up in the Big Horn Basin and graduated high school in Worland. She attended the University of Wyoming and went to medical school as part of the University of Washington’s WWAMI program. She is accepting new patients of all ages at Mesa Primary Care. Call (307) 234-6765 for an appointment.