5 common ailments that affect children and how to treat them

With the kids back at school, head lice, tummy upsets and fevers often become a topic of conversation for many parents treating their kids. Your pharmacist is always on hand to offer advice, but let’s have a quick look at 5 common complaints in children.

Head lice are small, flat insects about 3mm long that live on the human scalp, feeding on blood. They can’t jump, fly or swim but are spread when people have their heads close together or by sharing combs, brushes and hats. The female lice lay eggs (nits) that look like white specks close to the scalp and glues them firmly to the hair.

Head lice makes the head feel very itchy but it can be tricky to see them. Nits can often be found behind the ears and along the hairline at the back of the neck. If you discover head lice they should be treated immediately. Treatments mostly contain either insecticides or natural oils. Ensure they are rubbed thoroughly into the scalp and then combed through from the roots to the tips of the hair. Licener is a good natural treatment to look out for, proven to kill all stages of lice and eggs in 10 minutes. Use a metal fine-toothed comb to comb out dead lice and damage any surviving ones. Rinsing the hair in a half water, half vinegar solution after treating may help dissolve the glue that sticks the eggs to the hair and make combing them out much easier. Wash hair brushes, hair ties etc in hot water or soak in disinfectant solution.

Applying thick white conditioner to dry hair and combing through the hair with a metal fine toothed comb daily may help to remove or prevent lice. Tea tree oil can help prevent re-infestation of head lice by placing 20 drops into the conditioner bottle and using regularly.

Pain is a sign that something is wrong and can indicate damage to the body. The symptoms are usually short-lived and can be managed at home with medicines such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen. Always check the dose instructions with your pharmacist and use proper medicine-measuring spoons or syringes. Keep a close eye on your sick child, to check for signs that things might be getting worse and take him/her to the doctor if the pain is still there after 24 hours.

It is important to know when the signs are more serious, so you know when to seek medical care. For older children, the signs are when they are quiet and withdrawn; when they tug at their ears; if floppy, pale and hard to wake or not responding to you; if they have an unusual cry for longer than an hour; if there is a rash or stiff neck; sensitivity to light; if they are anxious, angry or frightened, or when they avoid their usual activities.

Fever is when the body temperature rises above 37.2oC and is usually caused by an infection. Most fevers will clear up of their own accord, but Paracetamol or Ibuprofen can help speed up the process. Sponging down children with tepid water may also help. It is important that any child with a temperature greater than 39oC or a fever that lasts for more than 24 hours, is taken to a doctor.

Vomiting and diarrhoea causes the loss of body fluids and important electrolytes which can result in dehydration. Children can become dehydrated quickly so look for signs of dry mouth; sunken eyes; cold hands and feet; mottled bluish skin; unusual lack of energy or inability to drink. If your child has these signs or vomiting continues for longer than 3 hours or diarrhoea for 24 hours, call your doctor.

An oral rehydration solution is specially-prepared to contain the right amounts of electrolytes, glucose and water to replace lost nutrients. Give small amounts often.

Worms (usually threadworms) are caught by eating the worm’s eggs which hatch in the intestines and travel out the intestines and lay further eggs around the anus, causing itching. If the area is scratched the eggs may lodge under the fingernails. They are then spread by touching food or other people, infecting either themselves again or others. You can check if your child has worms if they have the thread-like worms in their poo or suffer from an itching bottom, particularly at night, where the small eggs may be seen.

Your pharmacist can help you treat worms. It is advisable to treat all family members, in case the infection has spread. The treatments available over the counter are effective against common parasites, so if you have been travelling to other countries and suspect a more sinister infection, see your doctor. Affected skin, particularly around the bottom, can be soothed by protective creams used for nappy rash.

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