5 Back to School Health Questions Answered by a Nurse


School is just around the corner, y’all. In fact, it’s already started in many areas. With that, school shopping, school physicals and checkups, and school photos are just a blink away. And as we’re all getting ready for either those “first-day-of-school” or actual school photos, I asked a group of more than 1,650 women what health-related questions they’d like straight answers to. Here are stories to answer those 5 most common back to school health questions – because why not get some Health Resources, Tips, and Pointers from an ER Nurse?

5 Commonly Asked Back to School Health Questions – Answered

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

1. What types of things go away on their own? When is it okay for me to wait it out?

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 are 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 are enough bacteria to cause a reaction (fever, swelling), there are usually enough bacteria that they’re gonna need a little 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?

Rashes suck. 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. Because some rashes are actually parasites – ringworm and the like.

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 – at home.

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 and a huge advocate for healthy living.

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.

Wondering how to make healthy baby food? Here’s the easy way how.

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.

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Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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