Common Cold: It is called “common” for a reason, because this virus easily spreads among people, especially children. Typical symptoms are sneezing, runny nose, congestion, coughing, and watery eyes. Most colds just need to run their course, though child acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be administered to alleviate symptoms. (Never administer aspirin to a child or adolescent.) If symptoms worsen or a high fever develops, the cold could actually be influenza, and a doctor’s visit may be necessary.
Influenza: More commonly referred to as the “flu,” this virus could initially present as a cold, but will be accompanied by more severe symptoms including fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Typical cases do not require treatment by a doctor, but you should consult your family physician if the child is less than 2 years old, has other conditions that make them high-risk, runs a fever for more than 48 hours, or if their symptoms worsen. Children should also begin receiving an annual flu shot after the age of 6 months.
Strep Throat: Caused by a bacteria that lives in the nose and throat, strep is easily spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include fever, stomach pain, red and swollen tonsils, and throat pain. A strep test administered at the doctor’s office will confirm the diagnosis, and antibiotics will be prescribed for treatment. It is especially important to test for strep throat when a child is exhibiting the symptoms, because this bacteria can also cause kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can lead to painful and inflamed joints, a specific type of rash, or heart valve damage.
Gastroenteritis: Better known as the “stomach flu,” this virus spreads through homes and schools quickly. Symptoms may include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. A doctor’s visit is usually not necessary unless symptoms become severe, and at-home treatment should include plenty of rest and fluids.
Mononucleosis: Often referred to as “mono,” this disease is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus which is spread by kissing, coughing, sneezing, or contact with saliva. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, tiredness, and sore throat, and at-home treatment should include plenty of rest, with child acetaminophen or ibuprofen administered to ease pain, fever, or muscle aches. A doctor’s diagnosis is needed to confirm mono, but a doctor’s visit is not necessary unless severe symptoms occur, including a sharp pain on the left side of the abdomen, very little urine production, or symptoms that do not go away after 4 to 6 weeks. Call 911 if your child experiences trouble breathing or swallowing.
Ear Infection: Very common in children, ear infections occur when a virus or bacteria gets into the space behind the eardrum, causing pus to build up, which then creates pressure on the eardrum that can be painful. These infections typically clear up on their own, so unless symptoms are severe, it is recommended to monitor them and administer child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Call your child’s doctor if they are under 6 months old, their fever lasts for more than two days, a knot or swelling develops behind or under the ear, or symptoms do not improve after two or three days.
Conjunctivitis: More commonly known as “pinkeye,” this is a common infection that can be caused by bacteria, a virus, allergies, or an eye irritant. Pinkeye that is caused by bacteria or a virus is contagious. A doctor can prescribe antibiotic ointment or eye drops for bacterial infections, but pinkeye caused by a virus, allergies, or chemicals will need to run its course. Eye drops, warm or cool compresses, and child acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with relief of symptoms.
Head Lice: Head lice are tiny parasites that feed off of tiny amounts of blood from the scalp, and while they are not dangerous, they are very irritating and very contagious. Prescription or over-the-counter treatments such as shampoo, cream rinse, or lotion can be used to kill the lice, and nits can be removed from the hair using a fine-tooth comb.