This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You can read my privacy & disclosure policies here.
School is just around the corner, y’all. And with that, school shopping, school physicals and checkups, and school photos are just a blink away.
With only a few weeks to go, you’re no doubt preparing by buying books, crayons, backpacks, and other supplies. And if you’re really on the ball, you’ve probably already pinned a bunch of school lunch ideas. (Note to self: go pin some school lunch ideas later)
And as we’re all getting ready for those “first-day-of-school!” photos, I asked a group of more than 1,450 women what health-related questions they’d like straight answers to. Now, if you haven’t read the little medical disclaimer at the top, please do so now. Because it’s always a great idea to talk to your doctor or primary care provider about these things.
But if you’d like some great anecdotes from a 7+ year children’s emergency room nurse veteran, here’s some stories to answer those 5 most common back to school health questions.
Back to School Health Questions
1. What types of things go away on their own? When is it okay for me to wait it out?
I get it. Nobody wants to go to the doctor or drop a copay for a sore throat that’s going to go away on its own. Especially if ya aren’t going to get prescribed anything, right?
And with back to school looming, there’s going to be an awful lot of germs running amok to infect our kids – and ourselves.
So how do we balance knowing when we can stay home (and avoid looking like the overly paranoid moms we already are) and knowing it’s time to go see the doctor?
Well, let’s answer the original question with a little microbe lesson.
There’s a few types of germs in the world:
- Bacterial infections can go away on their own, but it’s a lot less likely that they actually will. Why? because if there’s enough bacteria to cause a reaction (fever, swelling), there’s enough bacteria that they’re gonna need a little somethin’ somethin’ called antibiotics to evict them properly. Because nobody likes an infection to get worse. (Example: strep throat)
- Viral infections are what most infections are. They generally go away on their own, unless they’re one of the super-nasty viruses. Oh, and this is important: antibiotics won’t help. (Example: colds, the flu: including man-flu and child-flu)
- Parasitic & Fungal infections are generally pretty rare. Like, the only times I ever saw a fungal infection was when somebody was already really, really sick with a lot of other stuff. And I know exactly one person who’s had to deal with a parasite. Oh, and antibiotics still won’t help.
How do you tell the difference?
Watch what your kids are doing.
- Even if they’re quieter than normal, as long as happy and playful, that’s generally a good sign that you’ve got time to let their bodies do their healing thing.
- If they’re acting sick and have a fever, please give them something to help the fever. The goal is to get them back to playing, even if it’s quiet playing. Because that means they’re healing.
- If they’re acting sick and getting worse, that’s when it’s time to use that mama intuition. Once when my oldest boy was sick with a fever and a nasty cough that was getting worse… I gave him some Tylenol and he perked up after an hour. My second son in the same situation? I gave him Tylenol, albuterol, and took him to the ER because I knew his asthma wasn’t in the mood to play nicely.
Watching your child and their behavior really is the key, y’all. When you tell the nurse your child’s acting strangely, that you already tried ibuprofen, and that it’s not getting better, we believe you.
2. What do I do about this rash?
They’re itchy, scratchy, and they rarely go away very quickly. In fact, I’ve seen some rashes that last for 2-3 weeks. I actually caught one of those, so I can testify first-hand how sucky it was. Benadryl and cortisone cream for 3 weeks or I’d erupt in a red, raised, itchy rash of doom.
All that being said, a rash really needs to be seen in person to be properly diagnosed. Some other nurses and I used to regularly text each other with weird rashes our kids would develop. We got pretty good at figuring out several types of rashes via a photo. But if you don’t see rashes on a regular basis? Get ’em checked out.
How fast you need to be seen will depend on the rash. This last summer my oldest developed a bulls-eye shaped rash on his leg. You best believe we went right in to rule out Lyme disease! Thankfully, it was just a very, very weird reaction to a mosquito bite.
Oh, I do want to give you a heads up about one rash that’s particularly nasty. And amazingly contagious. It’s called “Hand-Foot-Mouth”… because you develop these itchy, ugly little bumps on… your hands, your feet, and in and around your mouth. Try not to catch that virus, or you’re gonna have a couple of miserable weeks at home and a lot of binge-watching Netflix while everyone recovers.
3. When should I worry about your kids’ weight?
You know all those scales, bell curves, and percentiles? They’re just a tool to give doctors and nurses a way to keep track of your child’s health. They aren’t some Holy Grail of Health. So don’t stress about those numbers too much.
Take a look at your child. How do they look?
My second son is a naturally slender guy, like his dad. But he looks like a normal kid. Just a skinny one. So I give him whole milk and try to feed him as many healthy fats in his diet as he’ll go for (he’s more of a fruit and carb kind of kid, so it’s usually just the whole milk!). If he’s too picky for a bit, or I can tell a growth spurt is coming, then I pull out his “chubby milk”.
Chubby milk: Add a pint of half-and-half to a gallon of whole milk.
It’s a good, quick way to make sure his body has the fat reserves he’ll need when another growth spurt decides to show up.
What about the other side of the coin?
If your kid dominates the top end of the BMI scale, don’t stress. Remember: kids grow. And often, they grow horizontally before they grow vertically. My sister was the fattest baby. My brother once told me how she was so fat she couldn’t put her arms down straight by her side, kinda like Ralphie’s snow-suited little brother in A Christmas Story. But now? She’s a model.
If you want or need to do something, then reinforce the idea of a healthy lifestyle. Make sure your kids are active. Cook and serve a variety of healthy foods. Then take a deep breath and back off.
4. When I’ve been repeatedly reassured that everything is FINE, but my gut says otherwise, what should I do?
Think about that for a second, friends.
Y’all just answered your own question. If your mama intuition tells you something is off, go get a second opinion. Or a third. Or a fourth.
Sometimes something really is wrong. Or sometimes you’ve just run into 3 previous doctors who weren’t so great at explaining what’s going on. Either way, go find your answers. And if you don’t get a satisfactory answer, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or a better explanation.
5. How many trips to the doctor do I get before the doctor decides you are one of ‘those’ parents?
Let’s get real for a moment… It’s not the number of trips you make to the doctor that’ll get you labeled as one of ‘those’ parents. It’s how you treat the staff.
My nephew has Type 1 Diabetes and was, for several years, also severely immunocompromised (his immune system sucked). In other words, a simple cold could (and did) frequently land him in the Emergency Department I worked at. Did my sister-in-law get labeled as one of “those” moms? Nope.
So how do you get labeled as one of “those” parents? Be rude to the staff. Make crazy or unrealistic demands. Or rudely dismiss our years of experience and training in favor of something the internet said.
There’s so much information out there these days. But y’all, a lot of the time all we need is to pause, take a deep breath, and remember that we’re the parents of our children. We know them best. You know your child best. You’re their best advocate, supporter, and cheerleader.
So stop second-guessing yourself. Get some good back to school health questions answered or get advice from a trusted medical professional when you need it. But trust those mama bear instincts. When in doubt (or a panic attack is on the horizon), it’s totally fine to err on the side of caution. Because even though we’re medical professionals, we’re still human beings.
We have families. And we get it. We get you.