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Daily Dose

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

1:30 to read

Many of the patients that I see who have problems with attention and focus as well as other behavioral and learning issues have been started on all sorts of different medications. For some children their medications seem to be “working well”. But, for some children it has been difficult to find the “right” medication to alleviate all of their symptoms.  Studies have shown that anywhere from 10%- 30% of children with ADHD do not respond favorably to stimulant medications. Therefore,  it is not uncommon for their parents to inquire about the use of alternative or complementary medications. In several cases their parents have already started “dietary supplements”, which at times they are reluctant to admit to, or ask for my opinion.  

Interestingly, there is recent data regarding dietary supplements that parents and pediatricians should be paying attention to…and open to discussing.  A study that was presented last fall at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry showed that omega-3’s “could augment the response in children aged 7-14 years who were receiving psychotherapy for depression and bipolar disorders”. There have been  studies as well that have shown “significant improvements with Omega-3’s relative to placebo for problems including aggression as well as depression and anxiety symptoms”.  There are also numerous studies looking at ADHD symptom improvement in those using Omega-3’s, and again the results have been mixed, made even more difficult by the fact that ADHD is a subjective diagnosis.  

Another issue that requires more study is how these fatty acids actually work within the body and brain. Omega-3’s are an important building block of the brain and it is present in the brain's cell membranes, where it is thought to facilitate the transmission of neural signals.  Current thought is that these fatty acids may change the cell membrane fluidity and may also have anti-inflammatory effects….but a lot of research continues on the issue of mechanism of action. 

Several of the studies looked at dosage of the Omega 3 fatty acid supplements and “it seemed that there were more positive trials related to higher daily doses of  certain omega 3 fatty acids including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA).  There need to be further studies to address the amount and ratio of these Omega-3’s as they are used for supplements. 

So while the research continues as to the effectiveness of Omega 3’s on focus, mood, behavior and learning it is important for all children to consume enough Omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Eating fatty fish a few times a week would be beneficial for the health of all children - and the decision to supplement beyond that may be a topic for discussion with your own physician. 

 

Daily Dose

Mumps Outbreak!

1:30 to read

The latest infectious disease outbreak is in the Boston area where several colleges have reported cases of mumps. Mumps is a viral illness that causes swelling of the salivary glands as well as other symptoms of fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headache.    Harvard University has been hit the hardest and has now documented over 40 cases this spring.  Boston is a city with numerous colleges all in close proximity, and there are documented mumps cases at Boston University, University of Massachusetts  and Tufts as well.  These Boston area colleges are all in close proximity and are merely a walk, bike or train ride away from one another, so these students, while attending different universities may all co-mingle at parties and athletic events.

Mumps is spread via saliva (think kissing), or from sharing food, as well as via respiratory droplets being spread after coughing or sneezing. It may also be spread via contaminated surfaces that will harbor the virus. People may already be spreading the virus for  2 days before symptoms appear and may be contagious for up to 5 days after their salivary glands appear swollen….so in other words there is a long period of contagion where the virus may inadvertently be spread. It may also take up to 2-3 weeks after exposure before you come down with mumps.

All of the students who have come down with mumps had been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella).  Unfortunately, the mumps vaccine is only about 88% effective in preventing the disease. Despite the fact that children get two doses of vaccine at the age of 1 and again at 4 or 5 years….there may be some waning of protection over time. This  may also contribute to the virus’s predilection for young adults in close quarters on college campuses. Something like the perfect infectious disease storm!

In the meantime there are some studies being undertaken to see if adolescents should receive a 3rd dose of the vaccine, but the results of the study are over a year away.

In the meantime, be alert for symptoms compatible with mumps and make sure to isolate yourself from others if you are sick.  Harvard is isolating all of the patients with mumps for 5 days….which could mean that some students might even miss commencement.  Doctors at Harvard and other schools with cases of mumps are still on the watch for more cases …stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Daily Dose

New Sleep Recommendations

1:30 to read

SLEEP! Who can get enough of it?  More and more studies point to the need for a good night’s sleep. But, as a new parent, you are sleep deprived, and then when your children get older they may sleep through the night,  but they want to wake up at the crack of dawn.  Once your children are adolescents their days and nights are totally up side down,  they often want to stay up too late and sleep half the day away.

Sleep is an important way to rest our brains and reset our bodies for another day.  Circadian rhythm helps to regulate sleep/wake cycles.  But trying to make sure that your children get enough sleep seems to be a never ending battle (at least in many houses). It is also one of the most frequent concerns of many of my patient’s parents.  

A recent study which was undertaken by the National Sleep Foundation reviewed over 300 articles published in peer reviewed journals between 2004-2014. Based upon their review here are the updated sleep recommendations:

Newborns (0- 3 months) 14 - 17 hours

Infants (4 -11 months) 12 - 15 hour

Toddlers (1- 2- years) 11 - 14 hours

Preschoolers (3 - 5) 10 - 13 hours

School aged children ( 6 - 13) 9 - 11 hours

Teens (14- 17)  8 - 10 hours

Young adults (18 - 25) 7 - 9 hours

So, how do your children stack up with their sleep?  Parents with newborns complain that their children may sleep 15 hours/ day, but not in the increments that they would like, while parents with children over the age of 13 rarely report that their children are getting  8 - 10 hours of sleep.

One mother recently was exasperated as her daughter age 7 would go to bed at 7:30 pm but woke up everyday at 6 am. I explained to her that her daughter was getting enough sleep, and that unfortunately her biological clock was set and that short of making her stay in her room until 6:45 when she wanted her to get up, there was not much to do.  The problem is that many parents cannot go to bed when their children do, (dishes, laundry, work emails, etc to get done while the children sleep.) So while their children may be getting enough sleep the parents are often sleep deprived!

While a good night’s sleep is important for mood and focus there is a lot of data suggesting that children who get enough sleep are less obese, are less likely to get into trouble and are certainly more pleasant to be around.

So, have a good nighttime routine beginning with a regular bedtime for your children. Commit to no electronics in their bedrooms and turn off any electronics at least an hour before bed.  We parents need to do the same!

Daily Dose

Birthmarks

1:15 to read

Many years ago when children asked their parents “where did I come from?” they answered “the stork brought you”.  The picture of the stork’s beak holding on to the baby’s neck and flying to drop the baby on the new parent’s doorstep was known by all….but things change and that visual is not known by my newest parents.  In fact they look at me with completely blank stares when I discuss the birthmark on the nape of their child’s neck.

But the term “stork bite” comes from that old story, and the red birthmark seen on up to 50% of babies necks is also called nevus flammeus or nevus simplex. They are flat, pink and irregularly shaped and while they occur most commonly on the nape of the neck, they are common on the forehead, eyelids and above the upper lip as well. They are due to capillaries close to the skins surface. The stork bites on the face typically fade over time while the ones on the nape of the neck may continue to be present but are obscured and typically forgotten once the baby has hair. Many people are not even aware that they themselves have one.

When I am doing a newborn exam I see so many of these little “flat red patches” that I often to forget to bring them up as they are small and typically fade….but sometimes a parent will specifically ask about them. After I apologize for not bringing it up….as I know they are small and fade, but they are concerned,  I tell them that they are “stork bites” and get that blank look.  Then I launch into the etiology for the name etc. But, things are getting ready to change as STORKS a new animated movie is just bring released.  The old myth of the stork is making a come back!

So…if your baby has this small birthmark, no need to worry.  Be assured that most will fade but if they have not resolved by the age of 3 or 4 years, there are now lasers available to treat them.

In the meantime..take your family to see "STORKS" so they are aware of where “you used to come from”!  We can still tell our children the myth of the stork and then make sure to discuss the truth about “where did I come from?”. 

 

 

 

Daily Dose

New Concussion Guidelines

1:30 to read

A really interesting study was published in Pediatrics online entitled “Benefits of Strict Rest After Acute Concussion”.  The guidelines for treating a concussion continue to be debated and that is what makes this study thought provoking.  

This was a “randomized controlled study”  which followed 88 patients between the ages of 11 and 22 years who had been diagnosed with a concussion.  45 of the patients were given instructions for 5 days of strict rest at home with no school, no work and no physical activity.  They were then allowed to have a “stepwise return to activity”.  The other 43 patients were told to “rest” for 1-2 days after which time they could  return to school also follow a “stepwise return to activity”.

Interestingly, there was no clinically significant difference in the  neurocognitive or balance outcomes between the two groups.  In fact the group that was “advised to rest for 5 days” reported more daily post concussive symptoms and slower resolution of symptoms than those who were told to rest for 1-2 days.  

This was a small study and does not mean that everyone should be treated the same way. In fact, when seeing a patient who has sustained a concussion each person seems to be a bit different.....as one could expect when discussing a “brain injury”.  No two brains are exactly alike...at least for the time being...who knows what will happen one day with genetics

In my own limited practice I have found that “very few” tweens and teens subscribe to the complete rest theory...that is no school, but also no TV, no computer and no videos or smart phones....WHAT??? No social media for 5 days?  You would have to put most of them on an isolated “post concussion island” to ensure they disconnect.  

The study authors also wondered if patients reported more symptoms after having strict rest recommended.  It seems plausible that I too might notice a few more symptoms when just sitting there wondering if my head hurts or if I seem to be more fatigued.

Subjective symptoms are always difficult to quantify...which makes treating a concussion more problematic.  I think erring on the conservative side and restricting “return to play” for a longer period seems to be of more importance than any other recommendation, including “5 days of strict rest”. In the meantime this is an interesting study....with more data to surely follow. 

 

Daily Dose

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease

1:30 to read

I am back on my soap box about what is a newsworthy announcement…..especially as it pertains to viral infections. While I know that day care centers and pre-schools are “keen” on posting notices or sending emails to parents about the latest virus to be found at school, I am still baffled as to the necessity to do this and alarm parents. Aren’t there HIPPA violations or something?  Knowing that a child in school has been diagnosed with  “hand-foot-mouth" disease (HFMD) does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Pediatricians are used to seeing HFMD, sometimes daily, and yes it does seem that these viral illnesses cluster at different times of the year. But, with that being said, does it really do any one any good, and does it maybe actually “worry” already anxious parents about possible exposure. Are we forgetting that children are exposed to these pesky viral infections all of the time…and that in most cases they are fairly minor, inconvenient and cause several days of fever and generally not feeling well.  End of story.

But now HFMD has made the national news….as there have been 22 cases of HFMD diagnosed at Florida State University…..which has an enrollment of over 41,000 students!!!  Statistically speaking, that is not a significant “attack” rate….and this news is being reported on all of the networks.  While I realize that adolescents and young adults are less likely to acquire HFMD and they may feel worse than a toddler who in most cases seems to “power through”  with fever reducing medication, popsicles and ice cream, is this really a national news story?  

HFMD is caused by an enterovirus (Coxsackie A16) and typically causes several days of fever and not feeing well followed by small ulcers and blisters that may occur in the throat (painful) as well as on the hands and feet. (younger children seem to often get a rash on their buttocks too).  HFMD may be spread in a variety of ways including direct contact with saliva or fluid from the blisters that may occur on the hands and feet, from fecal contamination, and also when a person coughs or sneezes in close proximity. The virus may also live on surfaces that we touch and then touch our eyes, nose or mouth and cause infection.  As I always say, “good hand washing” and keeping yourself home when sick is the best way to prevent the spread of a virus. While I believe in good sanitation and clean public spaces is it really necessary to “wipe down” classrooms, dorms, cafeterias and even toys in school due to several cases of HFMD. Do you have to do this all day long?  HFMD is not a bacterial disease like meningitis and does not have life threatening consequences.  There will be another viral infection  (or 2 or 3 or 4)  soon to follow and one of these will be influenza.

So, rather than talking about HFMD and mass “cleaning efforts” I think we should focus on another way to prevent illness. VACCINATIONS!  We do know that vaccines work to prevent disease and despite the science behind that, there are still those that “opt out” of vaccines, and this includes getting a flu vaccine.  I wonder if there are students at FSU who have opted out of vaccines and if so how many….maybe more than 22/41,000?  At the same time, how many of those students will opt “in” and get a flu vaccine? That is the bigger story ….get vaccinated for flu now…so we don’t have another even bigger “outbreak”.   I know there will be more than 22 students who get the flu at FSU and will that make the news?  It is the same thing for schools everywhere…lets put up signs about flu vaccines and keep those numbers down.I hope the news reports this.

 

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Daily Dose

Epi Pen Controversy

1;30 to read

I have more than several patients who have had serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to a variety of things…including insects (fire ants, bees) as well as foods (peanuts, tree nuts, fruits, shellfish). All of these children need to have epinephrine auto injectable pens (EpiPen) on hand in case of “accidental” exposure to the allergen and a subsequent life threatening allergic reaction.  These medical devices are seldom used ( thank goodness), but need to be replaced every 12-24 months and should always be readily available in case of an emergency.

For the longest time it was not a “big” issue (cost wise) to write prescriptions for these allergic children and to make sure that they had several EpiPens on hand. This included having them available at home, school, in the mothers purse or in the car or in the gym bag…many people also wanted “extras” to have at the grand- parents house or at the lake house…etc.  So….I would write a script for the EpiPen 2 pack and the family might get 4-5 sets to disperse to the appropriate people. Prior to 2009 the cost was less than $100/two pack. 

It was several years ago that a few families started talking to me about the expense of these devices and also how quickly they seemed to expire…in fact we started asking the pharmacist to look at the expiration dates and to try and dispense the ones that had the longest expiration, in hopes of saving some expense.  At that time there were also two companies that were making the epinephrine devices.  

Then in the last year parents started calling me complaining that the EpiPens were becoming cost prohibitive and “did they really need to keep filling them?”….especially seeing that they had never needed to use one?  Of course I replied that “by the grace of God” and their vigilance they had not needed one, but YES, they indeed needed to continue to have them on hand.  In many cases families reduced the number that they bought and tried to make sure that they handed them off if their child left home….terribly hard I would think to keep up with.

This issue came into view most recently as parents across the country started complaining to not only their physicians, but to the pharmacy, their insurers and the drug maker Mylan Pharmaceuticals….why in the world had the price jumped to over $600? In retrospect, the price had been raised 15% twice a year over the past 2 years!  ( It was also pointed out that this was a 6 fold price increase in the past decade).

I do know that epinephrine has been around for a long time and the drug itself is not that expensive, and is used everyday in hospitals around the country….but the EpiPen auto injector which allows “anyone” to inject the medicine into a muscle without any measuring etc. has become cost prohibitive for many families, even some of those with insurance. It seems that Mylan Pharma  is setting prices “based on whatever the market may bear” and not on the fact that the drug is new or expensive to produce…

This is one of the times that all parents with children who need to carry an EpiPen need to contact their representatives in Congress, as well as their insurers to see if the public can be influential in trying to remedy this situation.  The public will have to let their concerns and voices be heard…

Just as I am writing this, Mylan has announced an “instant savings card” for those people who are paying out of pocket and help for those who do not have the means to buy the EpiPen….but this does not correct the problem as a whole. While the discount may be helpful for some, but not all, it is not the answer to the ever growing problem of exorbitant drug costs in this country. I have several families who are going to try and buy the EpiPen while on trips to Mexico and Canada. I have no idea of the costs there…but worth a try.  

Daily Dose

Kids Who Snore

1.30 to read

Does your child snore?  If so, have you discussed their snoring with your pediatrician.  A recent study published in Pediatrics supported the routine screening and tracking of snoring among preschoolers.  Pediatricians should routinely be inquiring about your child’s sleep habits, as well as any snoring that occurs on a regular basis, during your child’s routine visits.  

Snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea and/or sleep disordered breathing (SDB), and habitual snoring has been associated with both learning and behavioral problems in older children. But this study was the first to look at preschool children between the ages of 2-3 years.

The study looked at 249 children from birth until 3 years of age, and parents were asked report how often their child snored on a weekly basis at both 2 and 3 years of age.  Persistent snorers were defined as those children who snored more than 2x/week at both ages 2 and 3.  Persistent loud snoring occurred in 9% of the children who were studied.

The study then looked at behavior and as had been expected persistent snorers had significantly worse overall behavioral scores.  This was noted as hyperactivity, depression and attentional difficulties.  Motor development did not seem to be impacted by snoring.

So, intermittent snoring is  common in the 2 to 3 year old set and does not seem to be associated with any long term behavioral issues. It is quite common for a young child to snore during an upper respiratory illness as well .  But persistent snoring needs to be evaluated and may need to be treated with the removal of a child’s adenoids and tonsils.

If you are worried about snoring, talk to your doctor. More studies are being done on this subject as well, so stay tuned.

Daily Dose

School & Infectious Disease

1:30 to read

I received an email this week from a patient…subject line: “potential exposure to Herpangina”.  In the body of the email was the following:

Dear Parents,

We want  to inform you that a case of Herpangina disease has been reported for a child at ….. room #112.  This is a contagious disease that  is spread by direct contact with another person or contaminated objects.  Herpangina is an illness caused by a virus, characterized by small blister-like bumps or ulcers that appear in the mouth, usually in the back of throat or the roof of the mouth. The child often has a high fever with the illness. We have attached further information about this common childhood illness published by Children’s Hospital in Boston. Our teachers are carefully disinfecting their room to help prevent further spread of the disease.

The mother of the child that sent me the email was “freaked” out and “worried” about  sending her child back to pre-school.  

My question is this, when did it become a “rule” to notify parents in a pre-school or day care setting that there were viral illnesses circulating?  It certainly seems unnecessary to me to send notification of EVERY childhood illness that occurs and for most of my families only serves to cause anxiety.  Some of the schools in our area post a sign on the entry that says something to the effect:  “there are cases of diarrhea, RSV, hand foot and mouth and fevers being reported in children that attend this school.”  Really, is it that surprising or necessary? Seeing that many of the numerous viral illnesses that children get these days are spread via respiratory droplets and contact with surfaces, such as toys and tables that everyone touches (computers too), children are exposed to things all of the time.  Do you go to work and ask your co-workers in a conference room..have you had diarrhea, a cough or a sore throat in the last day?

I understand notifying parents of illnesses, such as meningitis, measles, mumps…even chickenpox that are infectious and may be serious or life threatening. Thankfully, there are very few cases of these illnesses to report, now that the MAJORITY of children receive vaccines to these diseases. 

By putting these emails, texts and notices out for every parent to become alarmed about…and then to come to the doctor out of concern that their child  “may get sick….even before they have a symptom”,  serves no purpose. Herpangina and Hand Foot and Mouth are very similar viral illnesses, and both are caused by enteroviruses. It is at times hard to distinguish one illness from the other. But, with that being said, the treatment is solely symptomatic. In other words, treat the fever, make your child comfortable and don’t let them go back to school until they are fever free for 24 hours.  

Lastly, your child is going to catch a lot of these viruses, no matter what you do when they go out to play, shop or go to school. Each time they catch a viral illness it actually helps them to build antibody in order that their immune system may get stronger and stronger. I think the better note is….as winter comes children will get more coughs, colds and viral infections…if you think you child is not feeling well or running a fever, please keep them home from school for the day.  It is just a normal part of childhood…we don’t need any more anxiety in this world.   

 

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Should Omega-3 be in your child's diet?

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