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Parents often ask how they can tell if their child has The Flu or just a common cold. Here’s how:


A cold, usually caused by one of many viruses such as rhinovirus, starts out gradually. Think back to your last cold: first your throat is scratchy, then the next day your nose gets stuffy or then starts running profusely, then you develop a cough. Sometimes during a cold you get a fever for a day or two. Sometimes you get hoarse, losing your voice. Usually kids still feel well enough to play and attend school with colds, as long as their fevers stay below 101 and they are well hydrated and breathing without difficulty. The average length of a cold is 7-10 days although sometimes you feel lingering effects of a cold for 2 weeks or more.


The flu, caused by influenza virus, comes on suddenly and basically makes you feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck. Flu always causes fever of 101 or higher and some respiratory symptom such as runny nose, cough, or sore throat (many times, all three at once actually). Children, more often than adults, sometimes have vomiting and/or diarrhea with the flu along with their respiratory symptoms. Usually the flu causes total body aches, headaches, and the sensation of your eyes burning. The fever usually lasts 5-7 days. All symptoms come on at once; there is nothing gradual about coming down with the flu.


Fortunately, vaccines against the flu can prevent the misery of coming down with the flu. In addition, vaccines against influenza save lives by preventing flu related complications that can be fatal such as flu pneumonia, flu encephalitis (brain infection), and severe dehydration. Hand washing also helps prevents spread of flu as well as almost every other disease of childhood. Please see our blog post on flu posted on September 6, 2009 for more information on prevention and care of children with flu.


The much touted “Tamiflu” is a prescription medication that can ameliorate the effects of the flu. In an otherwise healthy person, this medicine can shorten duration of symptoms by ½ to 1 day. Are you underwhelmed by this fact? So is the medical profession, which is why we reserve this medicine for people ill enough to need hospitalization or who we know have underlying medical conditions, because this medicine has been shown to decrease hospital stays and complication of flu in people who have asthma, diabetes, immune system defects, and heart disease.


Because of all the hype over the novel H1N1 flu (again, please see our blog post on this subject) I am already getting many anxious phone calls and office visits from parents who are worried that their child might have “the flu” when their children are having runny noses and some cough but no fever. Hopefully this blog post will help you sort out your child’s symptoms.


Julie Kardos, MD

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It is one week before the start of school and I watch as my daughter’s sixth grade teacher stabs an onion with a needle.  It’s a back to school ritual for my family.  Usually a piece of fruit is a proxy for my daughter’s thigh, and the needle contains epinephrine, a potentially life saving medication that my daughter would need if she were to eat a cashew. 



Two of my children are part of a growing number of people with food allergies.   According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, an estimated 11 million Americans have a food allergy.  Despite the numbers, the etiology of food allergies remains a mystery.  One of the most popular theories is that a child develops a sensitivity when the gut is exposed to a bit of the offending food during an unknown critical time in development–perhaps even in utero.  My son had an allergic reaction to peanuts at eight months of age without ever ingesting a peanut. He had been touched by an unwashed hand that had just handled peanuts.  To add to the confusion, experts wonder if there is a relationship between allergies and how food is processed.  In China, despite an abundance of peanut containing entrees, relatively few people are allergic to peanuts.  It is postulated that the smaller number is somehow connected to the fact that most peanuts are boiled not roasted.  Strangely, only eight categories of food:
milk, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut (i.e. cashews and pecans), fish, wheat and shellfish cause ninety percent of allergic reactions.



Reactions can range widely from a single, pesky, itchy welt to a choking off of all airway passages.  The type of suffocation that occurs can be impossible to ventilate, even with a respirator.  The medication  which can thwart allergic reactions, epinephrine, is available in a portable form.  Yet one study showed that even after medical evaluation, epinephrine was prescribed to only half of children and less than one quarter of adults with nut allergies.   More distressing, as a pediatrician, I find families fail to recognize the symptoms of respiratory distress and do not realize the urgency of the situation.  Even when respiratory symptoms are obvious, families are sometimes too panicked to think clearly.  I know of cases of parents who injected the medicine into their own fingers rather than into their child.

Unfortunately, even epinephrine can not always stop catastrophic consequences.  The only real treatment is avoidance.  This can be tough in a world where many confuse food allergies with a personal choice—like a person who chooses to be a vegetarian.  Adding to the confusion is the mistaken belief that food intolerance is synonymous with food allergy.  For instance, in milk intolerance, people have difficulty digesting the sugar in cow’s milk, whereas people with a milk allergy are reacting to the protein in cow’s milk. 



Watching an allergic person eat at a restaurant is like watching a person eat Japanese puffer fish- every bite could be lethal.  It took only one cashew to cause my daughter to break out in hives, vomit and experience a tightening of her throat.  During my first two weeks of college, I remember a  freshman at my college dying  because of peanut butter hidden as “the special thickening ingredient” in a restaurant’s chili.  Perils are everywhere.  A milk allergic person worries if a meat slicer has been previously used for cheese, the fish allergic individual needs to worry about Worcestershire sauce because it often contains anchovies and the egg allergic person needs to be suspicious of  foamy toppings on specialty drinks.   In my pediatric practice, one of my patients, a peanut-allergic girl, started wheezing simply because the child next to her in the car opened up a bag of peanut butter filled snacks.



Despite the sometimes small amount of an allergen required to set off an allergic reaction, one study showed that at least the major allergen in peanuts is relatively easy to clean from hands with simple soap and water.  Common household cleaning products remove the allergen from counter and table tops.  But kids, especially toddlers, are not known for their meticulous sanitation practices.  Schools and daycares often find keeping an entire classroom free of an offensive food easier than keeping kids from touching each other.



So when that letter comes home this fall identifying someone in your child’s class with a food allergy, don’t moan and groan.  Abstain from sending in potentially allergenic foods with your child.  Imagine sending your children to school knowing that a well meaning friend might try to share a deadly snack.  Like the millions of allergic Americans, your picky eater could learn to modify his or her diet.  Our family went from eating daily peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to becoming a nut free home.  What is an inconvenience to you may save a kid’s life.


 


 


Naline Lai, MD


 



For more info:
Food Allergy, Asthma and Anaphylaxis Network
www.foodallergy.org



 an online  resource and discussion group 



References:

Distribution of Peanut Allergen in the Environment


Perry TT et al.  J Allergy and Clinical Immunology.  2004;113:973-976


 


Prevalence of Peanut and Tree Nut allergy In the United States Determined By Means of A Random Digit Dial Telephone Survey: A 5 Year Follow-Up Study


Sicherer S. et al. Journal of Clinical Immunology 2003;112:203-1207

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It’s that time of year again, supply #3 on my back-to-school shopping list, glue sticks, are sold out at the Target down the street.  At this time of year, I see many of my patients embarking on their next stage of schooling.  Kids I remember starting kindergarten are off to high school.  Babies are starting daycare and the teens are starting college.  With all of these transitions to independence, the basic rules of daycare drop off still hold:



  • Always convey to your child that the transition is a positive experience.  You give your child cues on how to act in any situation.  Better to convey optimism than anxiety. 
  • Take your child and place her into the arms of a loving adult- do not leave her alone in the middle of a room.
  • Do not linger.  Prolonging any tears, only prolongs tears. The faster you leave, the faster happiness will start.
  • It’s ok to go back and spy on them to reassure yourself that they have stopped crying- just don’t let them see you.

Now with that all being said, kick back late at night, after all the school forms have been put away.  Whether your child is off to college, off to daycare or off to kindergarten, take out a glass of wine and listen to the letter I wrote for one of my own children years ago…


My Child,


As we sit, the night before kindergarten, your toes peeking out from under the comforter, I notice that your toes are not so little anymore. 


Tomorrow those toes will step up onto to the bus and carry you away from me.   Another step towards independence.   Another step to a place where I can protect you less.  But I do notice that those toes have feet and legs which are getting stronger.   You’re not as wobbly as you used to be.  Each time you take a step you seem to go farther and farther. 


I  trust that you will remember what I’ve taught you.  Look both ways before you cross the street, chose friends who are nice to you, and whatever happens don’t eat yellow snow.   I also trust that there are other eyes and hearts who will watch and guide you. 


But that won’t stop me from worrying about each step you take. 


Won’t stop me from holding my breath­. 


Just like when you first started to walk, I’ll always worry when you falter. 


I smile because I know you’ll hop up onto the bus tomorrow, proud as punch, laughing and disappearing in a sea of waving hands.  I just hope that at some point, those independent feet will proudly walk back and stand beside me.   


Maybe it will be when you first gaze into your newborn’s eyes, or maybe it will be when your child climbs onto the bus. 


Until then,


I hold my breath each time you take a step.


Love,
Mommy


Naline Lai, MD

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After completing my pediatric training, I worked for a couple of years in a large pediatric office before I had any children of my own. I was always struck by the Life Event of a child’s first birthday. This milestone carries so much meaning and emotion for families. My patients’ parents described huge birthday parties with characters such as Elmo walking around or Moon Bounces, large catered affairs with numerous friends and family members and entire neighborhoods. Often I would see a child sick in my office a few days before such an event with parents who were panicked that their child might be sick on his Big Day, or I would see a child for his one year well check and hear many details about the enormous party. Of course I also saw plenty of children a few days after their first birthday party who became ill, most likely, from a well-intentioned friend or relative who was already sick and passed the illness on to the birthday child at the party. I heard about the kids who clapped for the Happy Birthday song and kids who cried and one who vomited from excitement… all over the birthday cake. Many of my patients had their first full blown temper tantrum during their own over-stimulating first birthday party.


I remember not quite understanding why parents go through such effort and expense to throw a party that their child will never remember at a developmental stage where 99 percent of children are having stranger anxiety and separation anxiety, often forgoing daily routine to skip naps, eat at erratic times, and then expect their birthday child to perform in front of a large crowd singing loudly at them. “My husband and I will do it differently,” I would tell myself.


Now, three of my own children later, I must apologize for not quite understanding about that first birthday. I remember waking up on the day my oldest turned one year. My pediatrician brain first exclaimed “Hurray! No more SIDS risk!” Then my mommy brain took over, “Ohmygosh, I survived the first year of parenthood!” This day is about Celebration of the Parent. I finally understood completely why my patients’ parents needed all the hoopla.


Because I am actually a little uncomfortable in large crowds, my son’s first birthday party included all close relatives who lived nearby, people he was well familiarized with. Some pediatric tips I had picked up which I will pass on:


1)      Sing the Happy Birthday song, complete with clapping at the finale, for about one month straight leading up to the birthday. Children love music and hearing a very familiar song sung by a large group is not as overwhelming as hearing an unfamiliar song.


2)      Plan mealtime around your child, not the guests. If you are inviting people close to your heart, they will accommodate. Dinner can be at 5:00pm if that’s when your child usually eats, or have a lunch party that starts midmorning and then end the party in time to allow your child to have his regularly scheduled afternoon nap. Most one-year-olds are usually at their best in the morning anyway.


3)      If your child becomes sick, cancel the party. Your child will not be disappointed because he won’t understand what he is missing. You as parent would have a lousy time anyway because all of your attention will be on your ill child and you will be anxious. Your guests who are parents will appreciate your refraining from making them and their own children sick.


Recently while performing a one-year-old well child check I asked about my patient’s birthday party and her parent told me “Oh, we didn’t have a party. It was like any other day, although we did give her a cupcake for dessert.”


Now THIS is a pragmatic approach to parenting  because, again, no child will ever have memories of her own first birthday. However, I hope the parents did take time, at least with each other, to congratulate themselves and to feel really good about making it to that huge milestone in their parenting career. I hope they savored their accomplishment as much as their child savored the cupcake.


Julie Kardos, MD

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When it comes to our children, we want the best that money can buy. However, in these difficult economic times, I want to offer some suggestions from the medical perspective that can save you money without compromising your child’s health or safety.


Don’t buy “Sippy cups.” Just teach your child to drink out of regular open cups. Sippy cups are for parents who don’t like mess-they are not a required developmental stage.  They are actually bad for teeth when they contain juice or milk and they do not aid in child development.


 


Buy generic acetaminophen (brand name = Tylenol), ibuprofen (brand name = Motrin, Advil), diphenhydramine (brand name = Benadryl), allergy medication (brand names Claritin, Zyrtec). If your child’s health care provider prescribes antibiotic such as amoxicillin (for ear infection, Strep throat, sinusitis), ask the pharmacist how much it costs because usually the cost of paying for this commonly prescribed antibiotic out-of-pocket is less than your insurance copay.


 


Accept hand-me-down clothes, shoes, etc. The purpose of shoes is to protect feet. Contrary to what the shoe sales-people tell you, cheap shoes or already-worn shoes will protect feet just as well as expensive, new ones. Just make sure they fit correctly.


 


Don’t buy “sleep positioners” for the crib. Place your newborn to sleep on his back and he will not/cannot roll over. If you need to elevate your baby’s upper body to prevent spit up or to provide comfort from gas, don’t buy a “wedge” but instead put a book under each of the 2 crib legs so the entire crib is elevated. Wedges and positioners are NOT shown to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and are NOT endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.


 


Make your own baby food and do NOT buy “baby junk food” such as “Puffs” for finger food practice. Instead buy “toasted oats” (brand name = Cheerios) which are low in sugar, contain iron, and are much less expensive. “Stage 3” foods in jars are finger foods so just give your kids what you are serving the rest of the family cut into small bite-sized pieces instead of buying the expensive jars. One exception: do buy the baby cereals (rice, oatmeal, or barley) because they contain more iron than regular oatmeal and babies need the extra iron for their growth.


 


The best toys are ones that can be reconfigured and used again and again. Legos, blocks, crayons/markers/chalk, small cars, dolls, balls come to mind. Avoid one-time only assembly type items, breakables, etc. Have a “toy recycle” party or a pre-Halloween costume recycle party: everyone brings an old costume/toy they would like to trade and everyone leaves with a “new” item (kids don’t care if things are brand new or not, only if you teach them to care will they care). Along these same lines, inexpensive paint can turn a pink “girl’s bike” into her younger brother’s blue “boy bike.”


 


Borrow books from libraries instead of buying them in stores or look for previously owned ones at yard sales, thrift shops, etc.


 


Do not buy endless videos for your child. First of all, despite claims made on the packages, NO video has been shown to advance baby/toddler/child intelligence. In fact, almost all studies show that the more screen time a child logs in, the worse they fare in their language and intellectual development. Also there is some evidence that TV/video viewing in babies can be detrimental to their brain development. Now, as a pediatrician mom, I am not saying that I never sat down and watched Sesame Street with my children (I am a product of the “Sesame Street Generation,” after all). I’m just saying that I recommend using moderation and taking advantage of free offerings on public television instead of spending money on videos. Many libraries also offer free lending of videos if you and your child want occasional “down time” in front of the screen.

Julie Kardos, MD

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    I just went through a stack of “mom’s-stuff-stashed-away-when-cleaning-for-a-party-and-forgotten-about” and stumbled on a green three inch by three inch curved piece of plastic.  What was it?  A tres modern chair for the Polly Pockets?  A piece to a bicycle seat? Some treasure from a birthday party? My husband also scratched his head at the unidentifiable object.  I was just about to put it in the “mom’s-unidentifiable-but-probably-useful” pile when it occurred to me what it was….the shield to a potty seat.  The shield sits at the front of a potty chair and is supposed to prevent a little boy’s spray from squirting you in the eye while they are sitting.  This reminded me to warn our readers/listeners who didn’t have a chance to listen to the potty training pod cast to throw the shields away.  They cause more harm than good when an excited little guy tries to jump quickly on and off the potty.   

    Why didn’t I throw mine away?  Who knows.  I have a patient’s family who kept the dried out remains of her belly button cord after it fell off .  After keeping them for thrity years, my own mother recently tried to give me back my twenty baby teeth.   I was going to throw the green piece of plastic away.  Maybe I’ll just keep it and give it to my son when he has his first child…boy, will he be surprised.

Naline Lai, MD

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You just don’t appreciate a picky eater until you have one, ” overheard at Dr. Lai’s dinner table.


 


Picky eaters come in 2 major varieties. One kind is the child who eats the same foods every day and will not vary her diet; for example, cereal, milk, and a banana for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly with milk or juice for lunch, and chicken, rice, and peas for dinner. This diet is nutritionally complete (has fruit, vegetable, protein, dairy, carbohydrate) but is quite “boring” to the parent.


 


            The other kind of picky eater is the child who either leaves out entire food groups, most commonly vegetables or meat, or leaves out meals, such as always eats breakfast but never eats dinner.


           


            My own children range from the One Who Tries Anything to the One Who Refuses Everything (these are my twins!). My oldest child lived on cheerios and peanut butter and jelly for about two years and now eats crab legs and bulgur wheat and other various foods. My point: I know where you’re coming from, I feel your frustration, and I will give you advice that works as well as optimism and a new way of thinking about feeding your children.


 


            Fortunately, from a medical point of view, toddler/child nutrition needs to be complete as you look over several days, not just one meal. For example, if every 3 days your child has eaten some fruit, some vegetables, some protein, some dairy, and some complex carbohydrates, then nutritional needs are met and your child will thrive!


 


Twelve ways to outwit, outplay, and outlast picky eaters


 


1)      Never let them know you care about what they eat. If you struggle with your child about eating, she will not eat and you will continue to feel bad about her not eating. Talk about the day, not about the food on the table. You want your child to eat for the simple reason that she feels hungry, not to please you or anyone else, and not because she feels glad or mad or sad or because of what you the parent will feel if she eats or doesn’t eat. Along these lines, NEVER cook a “special meal” for your toddler. I can guarantee that when they know how desperately you want them to eat your cooking, they will refuse it.


2)      Let them help cook. Even young children can wash vegetables and fruit, arrange food on platters, and mix, pour, and sprinkle ingredients. Older kids can read recipes out loud for you and measure ingredients. Kids are more apt to taste what they help create.


3)      Let them dip their food into salad dressing, apple sauce, ketchup etc., which can make their food more appealing or interesting to eat.


4)      Let them pick their own food. Whether you grow your own foods, visit a farm or just let your kids help you in the supermarket, kids often get a kick out of tasting what they pick.


5)      Hide more nutritious food in the foods they already like (without them knowing). For example, carefully mix vegetables into meatballs or meatloaf or into macaroni and cheese. Let me know if you want my recipe for zucchini chocolate chip muffins or Magic Soup.


6)      Offer them foods that you don’t like—THEY might like it. Here’s an example: my children were decorating Easter eggs with Dr. Lai’s children. My kids asked if they could eat their decorated hard boiled eggs. Now, hard boiled eggs are one of the few foods that I do NOT like. I don’t like their smell, their texture, and I really don’t like the way they taste. Yet, all three of my kids, including my pickiest, loved those hard boiled eggs dipped in a little bit of salt. Go figure. Now I have an inexpensive, easy, healthy protein source to offer even though I can’t stand the way my kitchen smells when I cook them… but hey, if my kids actually will EAT them…


7)      Continue to offer foods even if they are refused. Don’t force feed; just have them on the table. It could take 20 -30 exposures before your kids might try them so don’t despair.


8)      Hunger is the best sauce. Do not offer junk food as snacks. Pretzels, crackers, cookies, candy, and chips have NO nutritional value yet fill up small bellies quickly. Do not waste precious stomach space with junk because your insightful child will HOLD OUT for the junk and refuse good nutrition if they know they can fill up on snacks later. Along these lines, never bribe food for food. Chances are, if you bribe eating vegetables with dessert, all the focus will be on the dessert and a tantrum will follow. You and your child will have belly aches from stress, not full bellies


9)      It is okay to repeat similar meals day after day as long as they are nutritious. We might like variety as grownups but most toddlers and young kids prefer sameness and predictability.


10)  Turn off the TV. Trust me and trust numerous scientific behavioral studies on this, while it sometimes works in the short term, it never works in the long term. In addition, watching TV during meals is antisocial and promotes obesity.


11)  Do not become a “short order” chef. If you do, your child will take advantage of you. Also see rule #8. When your child says, I don’t want this dinner/lunch/breakfast, I want something else,” you say “The meal is on the table.” One variation of this that works in some families is to have one back up meal that is the same every day and for every meal and must be completely non-cook and nutritious, for example, a very low sugar cereal and milk, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, etc, that you agree to serve if your child does not want to eat what the rest of the family is eating.


12)   You can give your child a pediatric multivitamin. This tactic is not “giving up” nor is it cheating, and it can give the Parent as Provider of Nutrients peace of mind. You can either give a multivitamin every day or just on the days that you are convinced that your child has eaten nothing.


 


And if all else fails, just remember someday, your child will probably become a parent of a picky eater too, and she will consult ask you how to cope. You’ll be able to tell her what worked for you when she was a picky eater. 

Julie Kardos, MD with Naline Lai, MD



                 

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