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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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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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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It’s time for another Two Peds in a Pod photo quiz.

The question: What’s depicted in this photo?

If you answered: a pen, a thumb nail drive, or an asthma inhaler, you would be wrong.

Kids use these devices, which purposely look like common innocuous objects, to inhale electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). Vaping, also called “Juuling” and an even more concentrated form of vaping, called “dripping,” is unfortunately popular among teens. It’s unhealthy: the stuff that the kids are inhaling contains nicotine and other chemicals.

Ask your middle schooler or high schooler. They most likely have seen these devices if they have not actually used one.

Parents need to know kids are vaping in school as well as outside of school. Unlike conventional cigarettes, it’s easy for the kids to hide: no smoky smell, no cigarette cartons. The vaping liquid or “e-juice” comes in all kinds of “kid friendly” flavors such as gummy bear, fruit, or chocolate, and the devices needed to inhale them look like items in every kid’s pencil case or backpack.

It’s easy for kids to get the e-juice on the internet because online stores don’t always ask for proof of age (legal age to buy is 18 years in the US). Most e-juices contain nicotine, which is addictive. Emerging data show that kids who vape are more likely to go on to use regular cigarettes than kids who do not vape. So much on the industry’s claim to help decrease cigarette use by substituting vaping fluid.

Bottom line: vaping, or using electronic cigarettes, is unhealthy and addictive, and startlingly easy for kids to hide.

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

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wart treatment

Nope, warthogs don’t actually have warts. But kids often do!

Emma’s dad and I both peered at the filamentous growth dangling from his nine year old’s right nostril.  “Yes,” I said, “it’s definitely a wart.”

Emma’s dad offered, “When I was a kid, I heard the way to get rid of a wart was to cut a potato in half, rub it on the wart, and bury the potato in the backyard. Legend had it, by the time the potato disintegrates, the wart will be gone.”

“I wish it were so easy,” I replied.

Warts are caused by skin-dwelling viruses. On the feet, warts can sometimes be mistaken for calluses.  One distinguishing feature is that warts sit in the skin like this:

wart treatment kids

Fine “feeder” blood vessels extend from the wart into the skin. Therefore, if you scrape off the top layer of a wart, a dotted pattern usually appears from above. The dots will not appear in a callus. View from above:

wart treatment kids

There are simply no glamorous ways to get rid of warts. Most treatment modalities destroy warts by pulverizing the home they live in, a.k.a. your skin. Your doctor may be armed with various agents such as liquid nitrogen or dimethyl ether propane, which produces a chemical “freeze” and dries up the wart. Another agent called cantharidin (otherwise known as “beetle juice”) is a caustic liquid derived from the blister beetle. Application of beetle juice causes the warts to blister.

Some doctors will even manually take a scalpel and cut out the warts.

Like I said, there are no glamorous treatments. However, more gentle creams which stimulate the immune system, such as Imiquimod (Aldara) show some promise in children. Other compounds such as 5-fluorouracil can be topically applied or injected and treatments such as pulsed dye laser therapy have mixed reviews.

Over-the-counter remedies exist in a milder form.  Commonly used wart removers such as Compound W, Dr Scholl’s Clear Away Wart, and Duofilm all contain salicylic acid.  The acid slowly dries up the warts.  When applying salicylic acid, after a few applications make sure you peel the dead crusty top layer off  the wart. Without peeling, future medicine will not reach the wart.  These methods can take weeks to months to work, but they do work.

And don’t forget the duct tape.  Duct tape, the great all-purpose household item, has also been shown to speed up the resolution of warts. Scientists hypothesize the constant presence of the adhesive somehow stimulates a natural immune response.  If you try duct tape, have your child wear the duct tape over the wart for several days in a row and then give a day off. If the wart is on a hand or foot, the tape tends to fall off during the day: just re-apply some tape at bedtime. Effects should be seen within a couple of months if not sooner. Now, the original study that showed duct tape was helpful, was followed by a study which showed duct tape was not helpful. Some hypothesize that the results differ because silver sticky duct tape was used in the initial study, while the later study used less sticky duct tape. So be sure to use the old-fashioned silver duct tape.

The prevention of warts is tricky.  Some people just seem genetically predisposed.  However, your best bet for keeping warts away is to keep your child’s skin as healthy as possible.  Warts tend to gravitate towards areas of skin broken down by friction such as feet or fingers. Liberally apply moisturizing creams daily to prone areas.  After a summer of wearing flip-flops and walking on the rough cement by the side of a swimming pool in bare feet, many children end up with warts on the bottom of their feet.  I know a teen whose warts on the tips of her fingers stemmed from months of guitar strumming.

Turns out that even without treatment, 60% percent or more of all warts will disappear spontaneously within two years.

Coincidentally, I think that’s also the time it takes for a potato half to disintegrate.

Naline Lai , MD and Julie Kardos, MD

© 2009, 2018 TwoPeds in a Pod®

 

 

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heart murmur

Conversation hearts murmuring.

 

When the Tin Man was a child in Oz, I’m sure his pediatrician never told his parents, “Has anyone ever said your child has a heart murmur? I hear one today.”

I know that when I tell parents about a heart murmur in their child, their hearts skip and jump. But not all heart murmurs are bad.

A heart murmur is an extra sound that we pediatricians hear when we listen to a child’s heart with a stethoscope. A normal heart beat sounds like this:  “lub, dub.  lub, dub.  lub, dub.”  A heart murmur adds a whooshing sound.  So what we hear instead is “lub, whoosh, dub” or “lub, dub, whoosh.”

The “whoosh” is usually caused by blood flowing through a relatively narrow opening somewhere in or around the heart. Think of your blood vessels and heart like a garden hose.  If you run the water (blood) very hard, or put a kink or cut a hole in the hose, the whoosh of the water grows louder in those locations.

Heart murmurs signal different issues at different ages. In a newborn, some types of heart murmurs are expected. Normal newborn hearts contain extra holes that close up after the first hours or days of birth. One type of murmur occurs as the infant draws in his first breath and holes in the heart, present inside the womb, begin to seal. As the holes get narrower, we sometimes hear the “whoosh” of blood as it flows through the narrowing opening. Then these holes close completely and the murmur goes away.

However, some murmurs in infancy signal “extra holes” in the heart. As pediatricians, we experience our own heart palpitations when moms want to leave the hospital early with their infants who are less than 48 hours old. We worry because many infants who have abnormal hearts may not develop their abnormal heart murmurs and other signs of heart failure until the day or two after birth.

Preschool and early school-age children often develop “innocent” heart murmurs. “Innocent” implies that extra blood flows through their hearts, but the hearts are structurally normal. These murmurs are fairly common and can run in families. However, there are some significant heart problems which do not surface until this age. For this reason, remember to schedule those yearly well child checkups.

For teens, during the pre-participation sports physical, pediatricians listen carefully for a murmur that may indicate that an over grown heart muscle has developed.

Holes are not the only culprit behind a murmur. The whoosh sound can also arise when a person is anemic and blood flows faster than normal. In anemic kids, the blood flows faster because it lacks enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells and the heart needs to move blood faster in order to supply oxygen to the body. The most common cause for anemia is a lack of eating enough iron-containing foods. Subsequently, we hear these flow murmurs in children whose diets lack iron, in teenagers who grow rapidly and quickly use up their iron stores, and in girls who bleed too much at each period. Replenishing the iron level makes a heart murmur from anemia go away.

Even a simple fever can cause a heart murmur on physical exam. The murmur goes away when the fever goes away.

Pediatric health care providers can often distinguish between “innocent” heart murmurs and not-so- innocent heart murmurs by the sound of the murmur itself (not all “whooshes” sound alike). If any question exists, your child will be referred for more testing, which could include a chest x-ray, an EKG (electrocardiogram), and ECHO (echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart) or evaluation by a pediatric cardiologist.

If your child’s pediatrician tells you that your child has a heart murmur, “take heart.” Many times a murmur comes and goes or just becomes part of your child’s baseline physical exam. Even if your child has a serious heart problem, most cases respond well to medication, surgery, or both. While not all heart problems cause heart murmurs, and while not all murmurs signal heart problems, the presence of a heart murmur in a child can signal that your child needs further testing.

Unless, of course, your child is the Tin Man. In this case, extra sounds indicate that your child needs more oil!

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

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teen boy

photo by Lexi Logan, www.lexilogan.com

 

The recent Parkland shooting in Florida is causing many to wonder how to support the emotional health of boys in their families and communities. We welcome therapist Dina Ricciardo’s words of wisdom— Drs. Kardos and Lai

Your son is crying.  A mad dash across the playground has led to a spectacular trip and fall, complete with a bloody knee and hands full of dirt.  Part of you wants to hold him on your lap and console him until he stops crying.  The other part of you wants to firmly wipe away his tears and tell him to be brave.  Which part of you is right?

In a world where there is a great deal of emphasis placed on the emotional health of girls, our boys are frequently overlooked.  While girls are typically encouraged to develop and express a broad range of emotions, boys are socialized from a young age to suppress their feelings. As a result, many boys and men struggle to express fear or sadness and are unable to ask for help.  It is time for us adults to stop perpetuating stereotypes and myths about manhood, and help each other raise emotionally healthy boys. Here are five ways for us to do so:

Make his living environment a safe space to express emotions. Give your son permission to express all of his feelings. Boys typically do not have the freedom to show the full range of their emotions in school and out in the world, so it is essential that they have that freedom at home.  Nothing should be off limits, as long as feelings are expressed in a manner that is not destructive.

Expose him to positive male role models. Boys need to be exposed to positive male figures who can to indoctrinate them into their culture and teach them how to be men. It is an important rite of passage in a boy’s development.  Take a look around your social ecosystem and ask yourself, “Who would be good for my son?”  Other parents, coaches, teachers, and pastors are examples of individuals who can play a positive role in his life.

Understand your unique role.  Each parent plays a unique role in the development of a son, and that role changes over time. A mother is a son’s first teacher about love and what it looks like, and this dynamic can breed a particular kind of closeness.  As a boy grows and begins to develop his sexuality, however, it is natural for him to pull away a bit from his mother and turn more towards his father for guidance. While this distance can be unsettling for mom, it marks a new phase in a son’s relationship with his father, who typically provides a sense of security and authority in a family as well as support for a boy’s developing identity. Mothers still play an important role, but that role may look different. As parents, it is important to re-evaluate what our sons need from us at each stage of their development.

Look at the world with a critical eye. Our culture not only glorifies violence, it equates vulnerability in males with weakness and attempts to crush it. That does not mean we have to accept this paradigm.  Talk honestly with your son about how and when to be gentle and compassionate, educate him on how the world view softness in men, and never tolerate anyone shaming him when he exhibits these traits. There is no shame in showing vulnerability, it is actually an act of courage.

Take a look in the mirror. Whether you are a mother or a father (or both), be honest with yourself: what are your beliefs about manhood? Do you feel safe expressing all of your feelings, or are some of them off-limits? If you are perpetuating negative stereotypes about men or are not comfortable with a full range of emotions, then your son will follow in your footsteps. Regardless of our own gender, we cannot expect our children to be comfortable with their feelings if we are not comfortable with our own.

There are times when insuring the emotional health of your son will feel like an uphill battle.  Keep the conversation open, and do not be afraid to talk with others about the dilemmas of boyhood and manhood.  And if you are looking for an answer to the playground dilemma, then I will tell you that both parts of you are right.  Sometimes our sons need loving compassion, and sometimes they need a firm nudge over the hump.  You know your child better than anyone else, so it is up to you to decide which approach to use and when.

Dina Ricciardi, LSW, ACSW

©2016, 2018 Two Peds in a Pod®

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.

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