Parents want their children to stay as healthy as possible, but reality is far from this. Children, especially infants, are most susceptible to infections. The immune system of infants and younger children is not completely developed, and hence they are constantly battling a series of infections, which they are exposed to almost every day.
Let's look at some of the common illnesses children suffer from and how to prevent them:
Cold and flu
This is one of the most common and infectious illnesses children suffer from. On an average, school-going children contract a cold at least 6-10 times a year, and it lasts from a few days to two weeks.
Preventive measures: The influenza vaccination will protect your child from flu but not from other respiratory viruses. Children should be taught to cover the nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing. Handwashing is the most important method to prevent cold. Children should be taught to wash their hands before and after meals, after playing with other children or with pets, before and after wiping the nose, etc. Younger children tend to put toys in their mouth. These toys should be washed and cleaned regularly.
Hand, Foot, Mouth Disease (HFMD)
This is a common disease among infants and children below the age of 5, as they do not have the immunity to fight the viruses. Symptoms to look out for include fever, rashes on the hands and feet, as well as painful sores in the mouth.
Preventive measures: Till date, there is no vaccine for HFMD. But the risk of contracting it can be reduced by frequent washing of hands. Ensure that your child does not share his food and avoids contact with infected people.
Conjunctivitis is a common and uncomfortable eye condition that can be caused by viruses, bacteria and irritants. It causes redness of the eye as well as a white discharge from the inner eyelid.
Preventive measures: The most practical way to avoid conjunctivitis is by washing hands frequently with warm water and soap. Also make sure your child does not share towels, clothes, etc., with an infected person. In case this cannot be prevented, make sure to disinfect the items in order to avoid spreading conjunctivitis.
Stomach flu (Gastroenteritis)
This is an infection of the digestive system, which is generally caused by germs and is not related to the common flu. It is medically termed as gastroenteritis. It causes an inflammation of the digestive tract, which leads to diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.
Preventive measures: As stomach flu is highly infectious, prevent your child from coming in contact with an infected person. Teach her to wash her hands as often as possible, especially after using the restroom and before meals. Do not let her eat street food as the water could be contaminated and her body may not be developed enough to handle it. Another good habit is to discourage her from putting her fingers into her mouth without thoroughly washing them first. Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them. Meat should be cooked well. Vaccination against rotavirus, which is one of the most common causes of stomach flu, can be given after consulting a paediatrician.
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A ear infection is an inflammation of the middle part of the ear, usually caused by germs, that develops when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. Ear infections in children are one of the most worrisome conditions for both parents and children, especially if they are recurring.
Preventive measures: Studies have shown that babies who are around smokers are more prone to ear infections. Hence, it is best to avoid smoking when your child is around. Follow the vaccination schedule as prescribed by your paediatrician. Avoid bottle feeding your baby when she is lying down.
Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the lungs and airways. The name is derived from the birdlike 'whooping' sounds that children who have the illness typically make when they’re trying to take deep breaths between coughs.
Preventive measures: The best way to prevent whooping cough is to vaccinate the child. Whopping cough can be dangerous in babies and children under the age of 18 months who have it should be constantly monitored. Continuous coughing could cause breathing problems in children. Whooping cough is extremely infectious. Ensure your child washes his hands before eating or in case he comes in contact with an infected person. Teach him to cover his mouth while coughing and sneezing to minimise the spread of germs.
Chickenpox often starts with a cold, a runny nose and cough, followed by the appearance of rashes a few days later. These rashes and outbreaks are itchy and uncomfortable.
Preventive measures: The best way to prevent chickenpox is to vaccinate children against it. Vaccinating children with two shots before they turn thirteen is advisable. In case if one contracts chickenpox even after being vaccinated, there is no cause to worry, as in these cases the illness is usually mild.
Although these are the more common ailments children suffer from, parents need to be alert and keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of infection. Preventive measures can safeguard your child from diseases and may even reduce the severity of an infection. However, each child responds differently to infections and parents must consult a paediatrician when in doubt.
The author is the Medical Director and Consultant Doctor, Ziqitza Healthcare Ltd.