how to breech the topic of suicide

In the wake of chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade’s deaths from suicide, you may be wondering how to address the topic of suicide with your child.  We bring back psychotherapist Dina Ricciardo’s post  for guidance:

“Hi, it’s me, Hannah.  Hannah Baker.” So begins the first episode of 13 Reasons Why, a thirteen installment Netflix series that focuses on the aftermath of the suicide of a 17-year-old high school student.  Based on the novel by Jay Asher, the series has sparked quite a bit of debate and concern among parents and mental health professionals.  At its best, the series has served as a conversation starter; at its worst, it has glamorized suicide and the fantasy of revenge.  At the end of the day, however, an important question remains:  How do we talk with our kids about suicide?  While many difficult topics have become increasingly safer to discuss, suicide is one that is still shrouded in secrecy and shame. In fact, it is so difficult to talk about that I had a hard time writing this post.  Finding the right words about something that often remains unspoken is not an easy task.  So if circumstances require it, how are we to explain suicide to our children?

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, research has shown that over 90% of people who died by suicide had a diagnosable, though not always identified, brain illness at the time of their death.  Most often this illness was depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, and was complicated by substance use and abuse.  Just as people die from physical illnesses, they can die as the result of emotional ones.  If we can change the narrative about suicide from talking about it as a weakness or character flaw to the unfortunate outcome of a serious, diagnosable, and treatable illness, then it will become easier for us to speak with honesty and compassion.

Telling the truth about any death is important. While it is natural for us adults to want to protect our children from pain, shielding them from the truth or outright lying will undermine their trust and can create a culture of secrecy and shame that can transcend generations.  We can protect our children best by offering comfort, reassurance, and simple, honest answers to their questions. It is important to recognize that we adults typically offer more information than our children require.  We should start by offering basic information, then let them take the lead on how much they actually want to know.

For young children, your statements may look something like this: “You have seen me crying, that is because I am sad because Uncle Joe has died.”  They may not even ask how the death occurred, but if they do, you can say “He died by suicide. That means he killed himself.”  The rest of the conversation will depend on the child’s response.  With older children, the narrative can follow a similar theme yet use more sophisticated language.  The older the child, the more likely they are to ask direct questions.  Some examples of honest answers are “Do you know how people have illness in their bodies, like when Grandma had a heart attack and our neighbor had cancer?  People can get illness in their brains too, and when that happens, they feel confused, hopeless, and make bad decisions. Uncle Joe didn’t know how to get himself help to stop the pain.”  If they ask how the suicide occurred, you can say “With a gun” or “She cut herself.”  Sometimes you will have to say “I don’t know. I wish I knew the answer.”  Whatever the age of your child, do your best to use simple, truthful language.

Regardless of age, children converse about and process death differently than adults.  If you tell your child about a suicide, it is likely that he/she will want to talk about multiple times over the course of days, weeks, or even years.  Keep the dialogue open, and check in with them periodically if they have questions.  If you find that you or your family is in need of the support of a professional, you might want to consider a bereavement group or a trained professional who specializes in grief.  These resources are available through online directories, local hospitals, and the Psychology Today therapist finder.  Overall, be aware that providing truthful information, encouraging questions, and offering loving reassurance to your children can allow your family to find the strength to cope with terrible loss.

(Excerpts taken from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s “Talking to Children about Suicide”, www.afsp.org.)

Links:

Sesame Sreet Workshop’s When Families Grieve
The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Hands Holding Hearts (Bucks County, PA)
The Jed Foundation

Dina Ricciardi, LSW, ACSW

©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®

Guest blogger Dina Ricciardi is a psychotherapist in private practice treating children, adolescents, and adults in Doylestown, PA. She specializes in disordered eating and pediatric and adult anxiety, and is also trained in Sandtray Therapy. Ricciardi is a Licensed Social Worker and a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She can be reached at dina@nourishcounseling.com.In the wake of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s deaths from suicide

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salmonella

Raw chicken left out overnight—Dr. Lai’s recipe for Salmonella

These days it seems that the bacteria Salmonella is lurking everywhere. Last month’s egg recall for possible Salmonella contamination affected over 200 million eggs, but Salmonella is not just in eggs. In the last few months, dried coconuts and even guinea pigs (as pets, not as food!) have caused people gastroentestinal misery.

Nontyphoidal Salmonella usually causes fever and crampy diarrhea. Sometimes the stools contain blood. This stomach bug mainly lurks in Continue reading

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Happy Mother's Day

Melanie with grandma and mom

Now that you are a mom, maybe, just maybe, you realize that your grandmother or mom was right after all. We asked our readers for some examples and our friend, writing coach Melanie Cutler, told us about two generations of advice she wishes she had heeded:

Grandma Helen ALWAYS had unsolicited advice for whoever would listen. She clipped out magazine articles and mailed them to her children and grandchildren. She was very well-read, and she knew a thing or two about most things nutrition and health-related. Continue reading

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Gepetto always said his son had allergies, but the villagers knew better

 

It’s not your imagination. This is a particularly bad spring allergy season. We didn’t need media outlets to tell us that there are more itchy, sneezy, swollen eyed kids out there this year.

It is worth treating your child’s allergy symptoms- less itching leads to improved sleep, better ability to pay attention in school, improved overall mood, and can prevent asthma symptoms in kids who have asthma in addition to their nose and eye allergies. .

Luckily, nearly every allergy medication that we wrote prescriptions for a decade ago is now available over-the-counter. As you and your child peer around the pharmacy through itchy blurry eyes, the displays for allergy medications can be overwhelming. Should you chose the medication whose ads feature a bubbly seven-year-old girl kicking a soccer ball in a field of grass, or the medication whose ads feature a bubbly ten-year-old boy roller blading? Its it better to buy a “fast” acting medication or medication that promises your child “relief?”

Here is a guide to sorting out your medication choices:

Oral antihistamines: Oral antihistamines differ mostly by how long they last, how well they help itchiness, and their side effect profile. During an allergic reaction, antihistamines block one of the agents responsible for producing swelling and secretions in your child’s body, called histamine. Prescription antihistamines are not necessarily “stronger.” In fact, at this point there are very few prescription antihistamines. The “best” choice is the one that alleviates your child’s symptoms the best. As a good first choice, if another family member has had success with one antihistamine, then genetics suggest that your child may respond as well to the same medicine. Be sure to check the label for age range and proper dosing.

First generation antihistamines work well at drying up nasal secretions and stopping itchiness but don’t tend to last as long and often make kids very sleepy. Diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl) is the best known medicine in this category. It lasts only about six hours and can make people so tired that it is the main ingredient for many over-the-counter adult sleep aids. Occasionally, kids become “hyper” and are unable to sleep after taking this medicine. Opinion from Dr. Lai: dye-free formulations of diphenhydramine are poor tasting. Other first generation antihistamines include Brompheniramine (eg. brand names Bromfed and Dimetapp) and Clemastine (eg. brand name Tavist).

Second and third generation antihistamines cause less sedation and are conveniently dosed only once a day. Cetirizine (eg. brand Zyrtec) causes less sleepiness and it helps itching fairly well. Give the dose to your child at bedtime to further decrease the chance of sleepiness during the day. Loratadine (brand name Alavert, Claritin) causes less sleepiness than cetirizine. Fexofenadine (brand name Allegra) causes the least amount of sedation. The liquid formulations in this category tend to be rather sticky, the chewables and dissolvables are favorites among kids. For older children, the pills are a reasonable size for easy swallowing.

Allergy eye drops: Your choices for over-the-counter antihistamine drops include ketotifen fumarate (eg. Zatidor and Alaway). For eyes, drops tend to work better than oral medication. Avoid products that contain vasoconstrictors (look on the label or ask the pharmacist) because these can cause rebound redness after 2-3 days and do not treat the actual cause of the allergy symptoms. Contact lenses can be worn with some allergy eye drops- check the package insert, and avoid wearing contacts when the eyes look red. Artificial tears can help soothe dry itchy eyes as well.

Allergy nose sprays: Simple nasal saline helps flush out allergens and relieves nasal congestion from allergies. Flonase, which used to be available by prescription only, is a steroid allergy nose spray that is quite effective at eliminating symptoms. It takes about a week until your child will notice the benefits of this medicine. Even though this medicine is over-the-counter, check with your child’s pediatrician if you find that your child needs to continue with this spray for more than one allergy season of the year. Day in and day out use can lead to thinning of the nasal septum. Avoid the use of nasal decongestants (e.g., Afrin, Neo-Synephrine) for more than 2-3 days because a rebound runny nose called rhinitis medicamentosa may occur.

Oral Decongestants such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine can help decrease nasal stuffiness. This is the “D” in “Claritin D” or “Allegra D.” However, their use is not recommended in children under age 6 years because of potential side effects such as rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and sleep disturbances.

Some of the above mentioned medicines can be taken together and some cannot. Read labels carefully for the active ingredient. Do not give more than one oral antihistamine at a time. In contrast, most antihistamine eye drops and nose sprays can be given together along with an oral antihistamine.

If you are still lost, call your child’s pediatrician to tailor an allergy plan specific to her needs.

The best medication? Get the irritating pollen off your child. Have your allergic child wash her hands and face as soon as she comes in from playing outside so she does not rub pollen into her eyes and nose. know that spring and summer allergens/pollen counts are highest in the evening, vs fall allergies where counts are highest in the mornings. Rinse outdoor particles off your child’s body with nightly showers. Filter the air when driving in the car and at home by running the air conditioner and closing the windows to prevent the “great” outdoors from entering your child’s nose. If you are wondering about current pollen counts in your area, scroll down to the bottom of many of the weather apps to find pollen counts or log into the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology’s website.

Naline Lai MD and Julie Kardos, MD
© 2018 Two Peds in a Pod®

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Dr. Kardos, on a visit home from medical school, with her mom and grandmothers, 1991.

A flash of surprise spread across her face. “You mean my mother was right? I can’t believe it!” the mom in our office exclaimed.

Many times as we dispense pediatric advice, the parent in our office realizes that their own mother had already offered the same suggestions.

This Mother’s Day, we’re asking readers for anecdotes about times where maybe, just maybe, your mom or your grandmother was right after all. If you have a photo available of your mom or grandmother with your child that you don’t mind sharing as well, we would love to post them along with your anecdotes this Mother’s Day.

Please send them along to us at twopedsinapod@gmail.com before Mother’s Day weekend.

Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD

©2018 Two Peds in a Pod®

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I have autismTo complete our autism awareness month posts, the following is a speech that a friend of Dr. Kardos’s with autism gave to his classmates a few years ago when he was fifteen.

Good morning everybody. Today, I wanted to talk to you about Autism. I have Autism. Don’t worry, it’s not something you can catch from me… it’s not a like a virus or anything like that. When I was very young, a doctor diagnosed me with Autism. My parents took me to the doctor because I didn’t talk much – I talked a lot less than kids were supposed to. Actually, I still talk a lot less than other kids.

A lot of people think things about Autism that just aren’t true. They really shouldn’t because everybody is different and has different things they do well. Actually, I am pretty smart. So are a lot of my friends with Autism. I just have a hard time with words. So reading, writing, and speaking are kind of hard, but I’m very good at math, science and stuff like that.

Every person with Autism has different things that they do well and other things that they have trouble with. For me, like I said, I have a hard time with words, I have a hard time remembering people’s names, and sometimes, I may have trouble knowing if someone is joking with me. You may see me walking around by myself – sometimes I pace back and forth when I’m thinking. I also sometimes flap my hands when I get excited or frustrated. So, if you see me doing that, just come over and say “Hey, Rob!” or something like that to me. That usually helps me stop right away. It may look funny, but really everybody does this a little bit. Other people may jump up and down when they are excited or clench up when they get angry. Unfortunately, I flap. But don’t worry, I’m OK.

Other than that stuff, I am just like everybody else. I really like movies and music. I go to concerts all the time… the next concert I’m going to is Bruno Mars. By the way, if anyone likes Bruno Mars, let me know – my sister doesn’t want to go… so we have a free ticket!

That’s really all I have to say. Just remember that you shouldn’t judge anyone without getting to know him or her. I’m just a normal kid that happens to have Autism. I don’t mind if you don’t mind.

Thanks for letting me tell you about myself. Does anyone have any questions?

Robbie

©2018 Two Peds in a Pod®

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how to tell if baby has autismAccording to a 2012 National Center for Health Statistics data brief, about half of all children in the United States with an autistic spectrum disorder are diagnosed at age five or older  However, many parents are suspicious much sooner. As part of autism awareness month, we bring you clues in toddler development that can alert you to a potential issue. This post follows up on our earlier post “How can I tell if my baby has autism?

Pediatricians often use a questionnaire called the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) as a screening tool. This test can be downloaded for free. In our office we administer the M-CHAT at the 18-month well child visit and again at the two-year well visit, but the test is valid down to 16 months and in kids as old as 30 months. Not every child who fails this test has autism, but the screening helps us to identify which child needs further evaluation.

At 15-18 months of age, children should show the beginnings of pretend play. For example, if you give your child a toy car, the toddler should pretend to drive the car on a road, make appropriate car noises, or maybe even narrate the action: “Up, up, up, down, down, rrrroooom!” Younger babies mouth the car, spin the wheels, hold it in different positions, or drag a car upside down, but by 18 months, they perceive a car is a car and make it act accordingly. Other examples of pretend play are when a toddler uses an empty spoon and pretends to feed his dad, or takes the T.V. remote and then holds it like a phone and says “hello?” You may also see him take a baby doll, tuck baby into bed, and cover her with a blanket.

Eye contact in American culture is a sign that the child is paying attention and engaged with another person. Lack of eye contact or lack of “checking in” with parents and other caregivers can be a sign of delayed social development.

Kids periodically try to get their parents to pay attention to what they are doing. Lack of enticing a parent into play or lack of interest in what parents or other children are up to by this age is a sign of delayed social development. Ask yourself, “Does my child bring me things? Does he show me things?” Also, although they may not share or take turns, toddlers should still be interested in other children.

Many typical two-year-olds like to line things up. They will line up cars, stuffed animals, shapes from a shape sorter, or books. The difference between a typically-developing two-year-old and one that might have autism is that the typically-developing child will not line things up the exact same way every time. It’s fine to hand your child car after car as he contently lines them up, but I worry about the toddler who has a tantrum if you switch the blue for the green car in the lineup.

Two-year-olds should speak in 2-3 word sentences or phrases that communicate their needs. Autism is a communication disorder, and since speech is the primary means to communicate, delayed speech may signal autism. Even children with hearing issues who are speech-delayed should still use vocal utterances and gestures or formal sign language to communicate.

Atypically terrible “terrible twos.” Having a sensory threshold above or below what you expect may be a sign of autism. While an over-tired toddler is prone to meltdowns and screaming, parents can often tell what triggered the meltdown. For example, my oldest, at this age, used to have a tantrum every time the butter melted on his still-warm waffle. Yes, it seemed a ridiculous reason to scream, but I could still follow his logic. Autistic children are prone to screaming rages beyond what seems reasonable or logical. Look also for the child who does not startle at loud noises, or withdraws from physical contact because it is overstimulating.

By three years, children make friends with children their own age. They are past the “mine” phase and enjoy playing, negotiating, competing, and sharing with other three-year-olds. Not every three year old has to be a social butterfly but he should have at least one “best buddy.”

Regression of skills at any age is a great concern. Parents should alert their child’s pediatrician if their child stops talking, stops communicating, or stops interacting normally with family or friends.

It’ s okay to compare. Comparing your child to other same-age children may alert you to delays. For example, I had parents of twins raise concerns because one twin developed communication skills at a different pace than the other twin.

Although you may wonder if your child has autism, there are other diagnoses to consider. For instance, children need all of their senses intact in order to communicate well. I had a patient who seemed quite delayed, and it turned out that his vision was terrible. He never complained about not seeing well because he didn’t know any other way of seeing. After my patient was fitted with strong glasses at the age of three, his development accelerated dramatically. The same occurs for children with hearing loss—you can’t learn to talk if you can’t hear the sounds that you need to mimic, and you can’t react properly to others if you can’t hear them.

If you or your pediatrician suspect your child has autism, early, intensive special instruction, even before a diagnosis is finalized, is important. Every state in the United States has Early Intervention services that are parent-prompted and free for kids. The sooner your child starts to works on alternate means of communication, the quicker the frustration in families dissipates and the more likely your child is to ultimately develop language and social skills. Do not be afraid of looking for a diagnosis. He will be the same child you love regardless of a diagnosis. The only difference is that he will receive the interventions he needs.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2018, 2013 Two Peds in a Pod®

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how to tell if baby has autism

April is National Autism Awareness month in the United States. Early recognition improves outcome and this April we will post a series on the recognition of autism in a baby and in a toddler, as well as a personal story. — Drs. Kardos and Lai

Home videos of children diagnosed with autism reveal that even before their first birthdays, many autistic children demonstrate abnormal social development that went unrecognized.

Autism is a communication disorder where children have difficulty relating to other people. Pediatricians watch for speech delay as a sign of autism. Even before your child is expected to start talking, around a year old, you can watch for communication milestones. Problems
attaining these milestones may indicate autism or other disorders such as hearing loss, vision loss, isolated language delay, or other developmental delays:

By six weeks of age, your baby should smile IN RESPONSE TO YOUR SMILE. This is not the phantom smile that you see as your baby is falling asleep or that gets attributed to gas. I mean, your baby should see you smile and smile back at your smile. Be aware that babies at this age will also smile at inanimate objects such as ceiling fans, and this is normal for young babies to do.

By 2 months of age, babies not only smile but also coo, meaning they produce vowel sounds such as “oooh” or “aaah” or “OH.” If your baby does not smile at you by their two month well baby check up visit or does not coo, discuss this delay with your child’s health care provider.

By four months of age, your baby should not only smile in response to you but also should be laughing or giggling OUT LOUD. Cooing also sounds more expressive (voice rises and falls or changes in pitch) as if your child is asking a question or exclaiming something. Most babies this age smile and coo at anyone who smiles at them- shyness typically is not seen yet.

Six-month-old babies make more noise, adding consonant sounds to say things like “Da” and “ma” or “ba.” They are even more expressive and seek out interactions with their parents. Parents should feel as if they are having “conversations” with their babies at this age: baby makes noise, parents mimic back the sound that their child just made, then baby mimics back the sound, like a back and forth conversation.

All nine-month-olds should know their name. Meaning, parents should be convinced that their baby looks over at them in response to their name being called. Baby-babble at this age, while it may not include actual words yet, should sound very much like the language that they are exposed to primarily, with intonation (varying voice pitch) as well. Babies at this age should also do things to see “what happens.” For example, they drop food off their high chairs and watch it fall, they bang toys together, shake toys, taste them, etc.

Babies at this age look toward their parents in new situations to see if things are ok. When I examine a nine month old in my office, I watch as the baby seeks out his parent as if to say, “Is it okay that this woman I don’t remember is touching me?” They follow as parents walk away from them, and they are delighted to be reunited. Peek-a-boo elicits loud laughter at this age. Be aware that at this age babies do flap their arms when excited or bang their heads with their hands or against the side of the crib when tired or upset; these “autistic-like” behaviors are in fact normal at this age.

By one year of age, children should be pointing at things that interest them. This very important social milestone shows that a child understands an abstract concept (I look beyond my finger to the object farther away) and also that the child is seeking social interaction (“Look at what I see/want, Mom!”). Many children will have at least one word that they use reliably at this age or will be able to answer questions such as “what does the dog say?” (child makes a dog sound). Even if they have no clear words, by their first birthday children should be vocalizing that they want something. Picture a child pointing to his cup that is on the kitchen counter and saying “AAH AAH!” and the parent correctly interpreting that her child wants his cup. Kids at this age also will find something, hold it up to show a parent or even give it to the parent, then take it back. Again, this demonstrates that a child is seeking out social interactions. Autistic children typically do not seek this out. It is also normal that at this age children have temper tantrums in response to seemingly small triggers such as being told “no.” Difficulties with “anger management” are normal at age one year.

Our next post will show signs of autism in toddlers.

For more information, check out the Centers for Disease Control site.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2018, modified from original posting 2010 Two Peds in a Pod®

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strep throat cartoon

The school nurse calls to say, “I have your child here with me and she has a sore throat. I think you should take her to the doctor to see if it’s strep.”

What IS strep throat?

Strep throat is a throat infection caused by Group A streptococcus (Strep pyogenes) bacteria. Symptoms can include sore throat, fever, pain with swallowing, enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in the front of the neck, headache, belly pain, vomiting, and rash. Not all symptoms are present in all kids with strep throat. Some kids look fairly ill and others with strep don’t look too bad.

Kids with strep throat do NOT typically have cough, profuse runny nose, or diarrhea. Only about 15 percent of all kids coming to our offices with a main concern of “sore throat” actually have strep throat. That means that MOST kids with sore throats turn out to have something else, most commonly a virus.

Why do we care about strep throat?

Most children’s immune systems are really good at fighting the strep germ. In fact, most kids would recover from strep throat even if they are not treated. However, some kids’ immune systems go a little haywire when fighting the strep germ, and in addition to making antibodies (germ-fighting cells) to fight the strep, they make antibodies against their own heart valves (immune system gets confused) which causes rheumatic fever. Treating strep throat with antibiotics shortens the duration of strep throat by only about one day, but more importantly treatment prevents the body from making the wrong kind of immune cells, or antibodies, against the heart valves. Fortunately, treating strep is not an emergency: starting antibiotics within NINE DAYS of symptoms is good enough to prevent rheumatic fever.

Strep throat can also lead to other complications such as scarlet fever (strep throat plus sandpaper-like rash on the skin), peritonsilar abscesses (pus pocket in the tonsils) and kidney inflammation (first symptom can be cola-colored urine).

How do we know if your child has strep throat?

To definitively diagnose strep throat , we use a long cotton swab to gently swipe the sore throat and obtain a sample of the germs. This sample goes to the laboratory to culture for Group A strep. In other words, we wait to see if the germ grows from the sample.

Strep throat cannot be diagnosed over the telephone. Nor can doctors or nurses rely solely on physical exam findings, because while there is a “classic” look to strep throat, some kids with sore throats have normal appearing throats yet the test reveals strep, while others have yucky looking throats but in fact have some other viral infection. We physicians ask questions about your child’s symptoms and perform a thorough physical exam and then do a “strep test” if we suspect strep throat. Even doctors send their children to the doctor for testing. Dr. Lai’s teen was just sent to her pediatrician’s office last week with a sore throat to check for strep the day before a track meet.

Many pediatric offices use rapid strep tests to help make a quick decision about treatment because the strep culture takes 48 hours or more to finalize. These rapid tests are fairly reliable, but sometimes can be negative (shows NO strep) even if strep is present, so most doctors send a culture back-up if the rapid test is negative. The other problem with the quick test is that once your child has strep, the quick test can stay positive for about a month, even if your child no longer has strep disease. So if a child is treated for strep throat and then develops another sore throat within a month of treatment, that child needs a strep culture back up if the office quick test is positive.

To further complicate matters, some kids “carry” the strep germ in their throats but never develop the disease (no sore throat or illness symptoms). These kids will test positive for strep but do not require treatment. This is why we do not routinely check kids for strep throat unless they have symptoms of strep throat. Antibiotics come with their own risk of side effects so we want use them only when absolutely necessary.

My child was treated for strep throat. We finished the antibiotic. Three days later his sore throat is back. Why did this happen?

Most likely, your child contracted a new illness. The illness may or may not be strep again. Often the new sore throat is the viral-cold-of the day starting up.  If your pediatrician determines that the sore throat  is from strep, the most common reason for getting two episodes of strep throat close together is that your child contracted the germ again (usually from a classmate). It’s not that the antibiotic did not work. It’s just bad luck that your child got strep throat again. Your child’s doctor can use the same antibiotic to treat the second strep or may opt to use a different one.

Fortunately, strep throat has not shown much, if any, resistance to standard antibiotic therapy. The reason that children (and adults) are treated for a full course of antibiotic is that this duration is known to prevent some of the complications of strep throat. You should give your child the complete course of antibiotic her health care provider prescribes, even if she feels better part way through the treatment. In addition to treating with antibiotic, be sure to provide pain medicine such as acetaminophen (eg. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (eg. Motrin or Advil) to treat sore throat pain as needed. Good news: after 12 to 24 hours after the first dose of antibiotic, your child is no longer contagious so if they feel better, they care return to school after this time.

Contact your child’s doctor during treatment if your child experiences increasing pain, inability to swallow, seems dehydrated, or look worse instead of better.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2018 Two Peds in a Pod®

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cartoon swallowing pillsDoes your kid spit out medicine? Clamp her jaws shut at the sight of the antibiotic bottle? Refuse to take pain medicine when she clearly has a bad headache or sore throat?

Sometimes medicine is optional but sometimes it’s not. Here are some ways to help the medicine go down:

Don’t make a fuss. We mean PARENTS: don’t make a fuss. Stay calm. Explain that you are giving your child medicine “for your sore throat,” for example. Calmly give her the pill to swallow or the medicine cup or syringe filled and have her suck it down, then offer water to drink. If you make a BIG DEAL or warn about the taste or try to hurry your child along, she may become suspicious, stubborn, or flustered herself. Calmness begets calm.

What if she hates the taste?

  • Most medication can be given with a little chocolate syrup or applesauce (yes, Mary Poppins had the right idea). Check with your child’s pharmacist if your child’s particular prescription can be given this way.
  • Often, your pharmacist can add flavor to your child’s prescription.
  • Check if your child’s medicine comes in pill form so she doesn’t have to taste it at all.
  • Try “chasing” the medicine down with chocolate milk instead of water to wash away a bad taste quicker.
  • Use a syringe (no needle of course) to slowly put tiny bits of liquid medicine in the pocket between her outer teeth and her cheek. Sooner or later she will swallow. After all, she swallows her own saliva. ( A factoid: an adult swallows up to 1.5 liters of saliva a day.)

DO NOT mix the medication into a full bottle or a full cup and expect that your child will finish it all. There is a good chance that the child will not finish the bottle and therefore not finish the medication. If mixing into a liquid, better to suck up the medicine into a measuring syringe and then, if needed, suck up an addition little bit of juice or Gatorade to attempt to hide the flavor and get the full dose in at once.

WHAT IF SHE THROWS UP THE MEDICATION? Call your child’s doctor. If the medication was not in the stomach for more than 15 minutes, we will often not count it as a dose and may instruct you give another dose.

WHAT IF SHE CAN’T SWALLOW PILLS? If your child can swallow food, she can swallow a pill. Dense liquids such as milk or orange juice carry pills down the food pipe more smoothly than water. Start with swallowing a grain of rice, a cake sprinkle, or a tic-tac. For many kids, it is hard to shake the sequence of biting then swallowing. Face it. You spent a lot of time when she was toddler hovering over her as she stuffed Cheerios in her mouth, muttering “bite-chew-chew-swallow.” Now that you want her to swallow in one gulp, she is balking. Luckily, most medication in pills, although bitter tasting, will still work if you tell your child to take one quick bite and then swallow. The exception is a capsule. The gnashing of little teeth will deactivate the microbeads in a capsule release system. If you are not sure, ask your pharmacist.

WHAT IF ALL ATTEMPTS AT ORAL MEDICINE FAIL? Talk to your child’s doctor. Some liquid antibiotics come in shot form and your pediatrician can inject the medicine (such as penicillin), and some come in suppository form; Tylenol (generic name acetaminophen) is an example. You can buy rectal Tylenol if sore throat pain or mouth sores prevent swallowing or if your child simply is stubborn. Sometimes you just have to have one adult hold the child and another to pry open her mouth, insert medicine, then close her mouth again.

HAVE AN EAR DROP HATER? First walk around with the bottle in your pocket to warm the drops up. Cold drops in an ear are very annoying. (In fact, if cold liquid is poured into the ear a reflex occurs that causes the eyes beat rapidly back and forth). Use distraction. Turn on a movie or age-appropriate TV show, have your child lie down on the couch on her side with the affected ear facing up. Pull the outside of her ear up and outward to make the ear opening more accessible, then insert the drops and let her stay lying down watching her show for about 10 minutes. If you need to treat both ears, have her flip to the other side of the couch and repeat. Another option: treat your child while she sleeps.

AFRAID OF EYE DROPS? If your child is like Dr. Kardos who is STILL eye-drop phobic as a grown-up, try one of two ways to instill eye drops. Have your child lie down, have one person distract and cause your child to look to one side, insert the drop into the side of the eye that your child is looking AWAY from. She will blink and distribute the medicine throughout the eye. Alternatively, have your child close her eyes and turn her head slightly TOWARD the eye you need to treat. Instill 2 drops, rather than one, into the corner of her eye nearest her nose. Then have her open her eyes and turn her head slowly back to midline: the drops should drop right into her eye. Repeat for the second eye if needed.

HATE CREAM? Some kids need medicated cream applied to various skin conditions. And some kids hate the feeling of goop on their skin. These are often the same kids who hate sunscreen. Again, distraction can help. Take a hairbrush and “brush” the opposite arm or some other area of the body far away from the area that needs the cream. Alternatively, apply the cream during sleep. Another option- let your child apply his own cream- this gives back a feeling of control which can lead to better compliance with medicine. It also will help him to feel better faster. IF your child is complaining about stinging, try an ointment instead. Ointments tend to sting less than creams.

Of course, as last resort, you can always explain to your child in a logical, systematic fashion the mechanism of action of the medication and the future implications on your child’s health outcome.

If you choose this last method, you should probably have some Hershey’s syrup nearby. Just in case.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2014, 2018 Two Peds in a Pod®

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