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Daily Dose

Do Essential Oils Boost Immune System?

1:30 to read

Although it is still hot and officially summer, soon everyone will be heading back to school  and coughs and colds (and eventually flu, another topic) will be just around the corner. I had a patient ask me about the use of essential oils. Her 2 1/2 year old daughter is heading to preschool for the first time and she “had heard from her friends that essential oils help a child’s immunity during cold season”.

Unfortunately, there is very little data at all to confirm that statement. I only wish that rubbing a bit of lavender oil on would help prevent the common cold. While it may smell great and be relaxing....there is no data that I can find to show that there is any reproducible science to the claims that essential oils boost the immune system.  

While I was researching I found many sites stating that “eucalyptus oil is an anti-viral” and “peppermint oil is an anti-pyretic (fever reducer)”.  Tea tree oil is touted as being “both anti -bacterial and anti-fungal” (I don’t know of other drugs that can claim both!).  But, I just don’t see any data to support all of this. 

The word essential refers to the essence of the plant the oil is derived from, rather than being “essential” to your health. While in most cases essential oils (which are highly concentrated) used as aromatherapy are not harmful for adults, it may be a different story in children, especially those under the age of 6. While labels may say  “natural” it may not always mean safe.  Many oils are poisonous if ingested and there have been reports of accidental overdoses in children with several different oils. In one report tea tree oil and lavender oil applied topically have been shown to cause breast enlargement in boys.  Oil of eucalyptus and peppermint are high in menthol and cineole.  These substances may cause children to become drowsy have decreased respirations.  While there are articles stating that the use of menthol (Vicks) on a child’s feet may be helpful during a cold for reducing a cough, do not use this if child is young enough to put their feet in their mouths. 

I must say that I sometime use a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the shower when I have a cold as I think it smells great and seems to help “open up” my head. Whether this is in “my mind” or a response from my olfactory centers which sends calming messages to respiratory center is not clear. But, I am not ingesting it or using it topically. 

 

Daily Dose

Colds & Suctioning Your Child's Nose

1:30 to read

I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but we are in the throes of cold and flu season and unfortunately there are a few more months of this.  As every parent knows, colds (aka upper respiratory infections) are “age neutral”. 

In other words, there is not an age group that is immune to getting a cold and for every age child (and adult for that matter), the symptoms are the same. Congested nostrils, scratchy sore throat, cough, and just plain old feeling “yucky”. When an infant gets a stuffy nose, whether it is from “normal” newborn congestion, or from a cold, they often have a difficult time eating as an infant is a nose breather.  When they are nursing and their nose is “stopped  up”, they cannot breath or even eat, so it is sometimes necessary to clear their nasal passage to allow them to “suck” on the bottle or breast. 

Of course it is self evident that an infant cannot blow their nose, or rub or pick their nose so they must either be fortunate enough to sneeze those” boogers” out or have another means to clear the nose.  This is typically accomplished by using that wonderful “bulb syringe”. In our area they are called “blue bulb syringes” and every baby leaves the hospital with one tucked into their discharge pack.  As a new parent the blue bulb syringe looked daunting as the tip of the syringe appeared to be bigger than the baby’s nose.  But, if you have ever watched a seasoned nurse suck out a newborn’s nose, they can somehow manage to get the entire tip inside a baby’s nose. For the rest of us the tip just seemed to get inside the nostril and despite my best efforts at suctioning nothing came out. Once a nurse showed me the right “technique” I got to be a pretty good “suctioner”.  With the addition of a little nasal saline, which you can buy in pre made spray bottles, or which may be made at home with table salt and warm water, the suctioning gets a little easier as the nose drops helped to suction the mucous.

Now, I have become a firm believer that there is a place for suctioning a baby’s nose, but once a child is over about 6 months of age they KNOW  what you are getting ready to do. I am convinced that a 6 month baby with a cold sees the “blue bulb syringe” approaching their face and their eyes become dilated in fear of being suctioned!!  Then they begin to wail, and I know that when I cry I just make more mucous and the more I cry the more I make. So a baby with an already stuffy nose gets even more congested and “snotty” and the bulb syringe is only on an approach to their nose. It also takes at least two people to suction out a 6 – 12 month old baby’s nose as they can now purposely move away , and hit out to you to keep you away from their face and nose. It is like they are saying, “ I am not going to give in to the bulb syringe” without a fight! I swore I would not have a child with a “green runny nose” that was not suctioned.

As most parents know, don’t swear about anything, or you will be forever breaking unreasonable promises to yourself!  I think bulb suctioning is best for young infant’s and once they start to cry and put up a fight I would use other methods to help clear those congested noses.  Go back to the age old sitting in a bathroom which has been steamed up with hot water from a the shower. Or try a cool mist humidifier with some vapor rub in the mist (aroma therapy).  Those noses will ultimately run and the Kleenex will come out for perpetual wiping. Unfortunately, it takes most children many years before they learn to blow their nose, but what an accomplishment that is!!!  An important milestone for sure.

That's your daily dose for today. We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

When Bug Bites Get Infected

1.00 to read

It is the season for bug bites and and I am seeing a lot of parents who are bringing their children in for me to look at all sorts of insect bites. I am not always sure if the bite is due to a mosquito, flea or biting flies, but some of them can cause fairly large reactions. 

The immediate reaction to an insect bite usually occurs in 10-15 minutes after bitten, with local swelling and itching and may disappear in an hour or less. A delayed reaction may appear in 12-24 hours with the development of an itchy red bump which may persist for days to weeks.  This is the reason that some people do not always remember being bitten while they were outside, but the following day may show up with bites all over their arms, legs or chest, depending on what part of the body had been exposed. 

Large local reactions to mosquito bites are very common in children. For some reason, it seems to me that “baby fat” reacts with larger reactions than those bites on older kids and adults. (no science, just anecdote). Toddlers often have itchy, red, warm swellings which occur within minutes of the bites. 

Some of these will go on to develop bruising and even spontaneous blistering 2-6 hours after being bitten. These bites may persist for days to weeks, so in theory, those little chubby legs may be affected for most of the summer. 

Severe local reactions are called “skeeter syndrome” and occur within hours of being bitten and may involve swelling of an entire body part such as the hand, face or an extremity. These are often misdiagnosed as cellulitis, but with a good history of the symptoms  (the rapidity with which the area developed redness, swelling, warmth to touch and tenderness) you can distinguish large local reactions from infection.

Systemic reactions to mosquito bites including generalized hives, swelling of the lips and mouth, nausea, vomiting and wheezing have been reported due to a true allergy to the mosquito salivary proteins, but are extremely rare. 

The treatment of local reactions to bites involves the use of topical anti-itching preparations like Calamine lotion, Sarna lotion and Dommeboro soaks.  This may be supplemented by topical steroid creams (either over the counter of prescription) to help with itching and discomfort. 

An oral antihistamine (Benadryl) may also reduce some of the swelling and itching. Do not use topical antihistamines. Try to prevent secondary infection (from scratching and picking) by using antibacterial soaps, trimming fingernails and applying an antibiotic cream (polysporin) to open bites. 

Due to an exceptionally warm winter throughout the country the mosquito population seems to be especially prolific. The best treatment is prevention!! Before going outside use a DEET preparation in children over the age of six months, and use the lowest concentration that is effective.  Mosquito netting may be used for infants in strollers.  Remember, do not reapply bug spray like you would sunscreen. 

Daily Dose

Moles On A Child's Skin

1:30 to read

Everybody gets moles, even people who use sunscreen routinely. Moles can occur on any area of the body from the scalp, to the face, chest, arms, legs, groin and even between fingers and toes and the bottom of the feet.  So, not all moles are related to sun exposure.

Many people inherit the tendency to have moles and may have a family history of melanoma (cancer), so it is important to know your family history. People with certain skins types, especially fair skin, as well as those people who spend a great deal of time outside whether for work or pleasure may be more likely to develop dangerous moles. Children may be born with a mole (congenital) or often develop a mole in early childhood. It is common for children to continue to get moles throughout their childhood and adolescence and even into adulthood.

The most important issue surrounding moles is to be observant for changes in the shape, color, or size of your mole. Look especially at moles that have irregular shapes, jagged borders, uneven color within the same mole, and redness in a mole. I begin checking children’s moles at their early check ups and look for any moles that I want parents to continue to be watching and to be aware of. I note all moles on my chart so I know each year which ones I want to pay attention to, especially moles in the scalp, on fingers and toes and in areas that are not routinely examined. A parent may even check their child’s moles every several months too and pay particular attention to any of the more unusual moles. Be aware that a malignant mole may often be flat, rather than the raised larger mole. Freckles are also common in children and are usually found on the face and nose, the chest, upper back and arms. Freckles tend to be lighter than moles, and cluster. If you are not sure ask your doctor.

Sun exposure plays a role in the development of melanoma and skin cancer, so it is imperative that your child is sun smart. That includes wearing a hat and sunscreen, as well as the newer protective clothing that is available at many stores. I would also have your child avoid the midday sun and wear a hat. Early awareness of sun protection will hopefully establish good habits and continue throughout your child’s life.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow. Send your question to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

Plate Size & Childhood Obesity

1.15 to read

While I have been trying to change up my eating habits a bit and talking to patients about trying some new foods, I came upon an interesting study in the journal Pediatrics.  

The hypothesis for the study, which was done among school children in Philadelphia, was “can smaller plates promote age-appropriate portion sizes in children?”.

There have been previous studies in the adult literature that have shown that dish ware size influences self-serve portion sizes and caloric intake. Whether the same conclusions with children were true had yet to be examined, but it does make sense that it might.

So, the hypothesis was correct and when children were given larger bowls, plates and cups, they served themselves larger portions and in turn more calories. In the study, 80% of the children served themselves more calories at lunch when using adult-size plates and bowls.

This is really great news, in that by changing the size of the plate we might be able to affect a child’s portion size without them even really being aware!

I remember that our kids all had children’s bowls, plates and cups that they loved to use and eventually they either broke, got lost, or we just decided to have everyone eat off of the same plates. But, maybe it would make more sense to continue to have our children use child sized plates until they reach puberty?  Certainly seems that it wouldn’t hurt and if schools did the same thing we might be able to impact some of the obesity problem by just changing one behavior.  It is definitely worth trying!

Daily Dose

What Are Breast Buds?

1.15 to read

I received a phone call today from a mother who was worried about the “bump” beneath her 12 year old daughter’s nipple. I do get this phone call quite often and even see mothers and daughters in the office who are concerned about this lump?  First thought is often, “is this breast cancer?”  The answer is a resounding “NO” but rather a breast bud.  While all mothers developed their own breast buds in years past, many have either forgotten or suppressed the memory of early puberty and breast budding.

Breast buds are small lumps the size of a blueberry or marble that “erupt” directly beneath a young girl’s areola and nipple. Most girls experience breast budding somewhere around 10-12 years of age although it may happen a bit sooner or even later. It is one of the early signs of puberty and estrogen effects.

Many girls will complain that the nipple area is sore and tender and that they are lopsided!! It is not unusual for one side to “sprout” before the other. Sometimes one breast will bud and the other is months behind. All of this is normal. 

While a lump in the breast is concerning in women reassure your daughter that this is not breast cancer (happy that they are so aware) but a normal part of body changes that happen to all girls as they enter adolescence.   Breast budding does not mean that their period is around the corner either, and periods usually start at least 2 years after breast budding (often longer).

Breast buds have also been known to come and go, again not to worry. But at some point the budding will actually progress to breast development and the continuing changes of the breast during puberty.

Reassurance is really all you need and if your daughter is self-conscious this is a good time to start them wearing a light camisole of “sports bra.”  

Daily Dose

Why Vitamin D is Important!

1:30 to read

As a follow up to the blog last week on children, calcium and vitamin D needs, a recent article in a Canadian Medical Journal reports that children who drink non-cow’s milk, such as soy, rice, almond and goat’s milk have lower serum vitamin D levels than those who are drinking vitamin D fortified cow’s milk.

This study looked at 2800 children between 1-6 year olds, and their consumption of either cow’s milk which is all vitamin D fortified and those who drank non-cow’s milk, in which case fortification is voluntary.  The researchers then looked at blood samples to measure vitamin D levels.

The researchers found that children who drank non-cow’s milk had nearly three times the risk for having low vitamin D levels.

So...bottom line...when I am discussing milk and dairy intake with families I am going to reiterate the need to drink cow’s milk, or children may need to continue vitamin D supplementation  and for most parents, including myself, it is hard to remember to give a vitamin or mineral supplement every day for a child’s entire life!).  A glass of vitamin D fortified milk at meals seems an easier choice in most cases.

Daily Dose

Ear Infections Can Develop Quickly

1:15 to read

One of the things that I sometimes see in my practice, which is interesting to me as a pediatrician, and was equally interesting when I had young kids, is how quickly a child's ear exam can change.

You are taught that in medical school, but when you really see it happen it with your patients or your own child you become a real believer. As the saying goes, seeing is believing. I can remember checking one of my boy's ears for an ear infection early in the morning before heading out to work, and declaring, "his ears are perfectly clear". How could it be, my husband would inquire, "that they seem worse after we have been at work all day" and lo and behold, I would re-check their ears and a normal morning ear is an abnormal evening ear. What a difference 12 hours can make! Not a very good warranty on ears and infections.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a patient called and said that her little boy had developed "disgusting" eye drainage which was worsening since I had seen them in the office a few days ago. They had just returned from taking both of their young children to Disney World, and she "couldn't believe they came home sick!" That's a whole 'nother column. At any rate, seeing that they lived fairly close I told them to swing on by and let me look at him again. I think she was just hoping I would call in eye drops. The two precious boys arrived at my doorstep on Saturday night and lo and behold after looking in the youngest child's ears, both of his ears were so infected. So, once again I was a believer in ears changing, and he did not need eye drops he needed to have oral antibiotics to clear up his ears (and subsequently his eyes). There are several lessons from all of this. Ears can change quickly, eye drainage in a toddler with a cold may often really indicate that their ears are infected, and house calls are a good thing.

That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Pool or Trampoline? The Safety Debate

1:15 to read

Do you have a pool or trampoline in your yard? Both pools and trampolines are fun for children, and both pose dangers as well. I saw a patient today who asked me my opinion of trampolines. It seems that she and a friend, both of whom have elementary school age children, are having a "discussion" about trampolines. My patient is totally against having a trampoline in her yard, although she has a pool. Her friend says that it is safer to have a trampoline than a pool. And so their debate continues.

Both pools and trampolines are fun for children, and both do pose dangers. But as my own children often told me "according to you Mom, everything that is really fun, is dangerous!" The biggest issue surrounding children playing in pools and jumping on trampolines is parental supervision. When children are taught safety and are given rules to follow that are then enforced, they may have fun and be safe at the same time. Pools are fenced, and gated. Parents watch their children swim. This is usually the party line. But trampolines also require the same amount of supervision and many parents don't realize this.

Most trampoline injuries occur when children are unsupervised. Many serious trampoline accidents occur when children of disproportionate weights are doubling jumping and the smaller child becomes a missile and is thrown from the trampoline when serious neck injuries may occur. Trampolines are also safest when they are buried in the ground or have safety nets on the side. Letting children jump unsupervised is as dangerous as swimming alone.

So, I can't resolve this friendly discussion, but I do know that both pools and trampolines require parental supervision and strict safety rules to ensure the safest possible experience. And yes, they are both fun! That's your daily dose, we'll chat again soon.

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