One of the most important goals of pediatric checkups, especially in the first two or three years, is monitoring child development. Recognition of the attainment of developmental milestones at the proper age is vital both for recognizing delays that might prompt a search for a specific diagnostic reason, and for initiating early intervention that can make a huge difference in long-term optimal accomplishment and success. Over the years, pediatricians and their staff have gone from making broad observational developmental assessment, to carefully carrying out increasingly detailed screening and surveillance, with various tools providing earlier, more sensitive recognition of delay.
Not surprisingly, the internet is offering increasing assistance, and now a new phone app from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is bringing a valuable new—and free—tool for parents and pediatric professionals, “Learn theSigns, Act Early.” Available for download from GooglePlay and the AppStore from cdc.gov/ActEarly, this multi-faceted site offers milestone checklists featuring interactive milestone guidelines for children aged 2 months to 5 years. There are photos and videos to help parents understand and evaluate their children’s attainment of these. Parents can score "yes," "not yet," or "not sure" to each milestone. There are also tabs for “When to Act Early,” recommended “Tips and Activities,” and a Milestone Summary page, as well as free materials such as books and charts.
This excellent resource can be really valuable to parents, and will enable them to assemble developmental data to bring to their children’s checkups, making their pediatricians’ own assessment more detailed and accurate.
An important part of the safety awareness portion of a well baby/child visit has always been a review of safety measures appropriate for the child at the age of the particular visit. Most of the subjects discussed–car seats, secure storage of medication and household products, electrical subjects–have been standard for decades. But every so often a subject of a newly recognized hazard presents itself, such as electronic “button” batteries or small magnets over the last five or so years. And just within the last year or two, another new source of serious injury has developed: concentrated laundry detergent pods which have resulted in more than 10,000-12,000 calls yearly to poison control centers, currently about 30 a day.
Although conventional laundry detergent has been sampled by children in presumably enormous numbers for many years, even decades , it seldom caused significant injury. But these newer single-use highly concentrated packets with multi-colored packaging containing Tide, Gain, Purex and other well-known detergent names are really different in this respect. For reasons that are not fully understood by experts in toxicology–but probably related to the rapid ejection of the super-concentrated product– the injuries from them are far more threatening . They include profuse vomiting, respiratory distress, and depression of the central nervous system, and ventilator support has at times been required due to aspiration into the lungs. There has also been at least one serious eye burn reported. The number of fatalities in the last couple years is about seven, and they have not all been in children. These severe ingestions have also occurred in some elderly people with dementia.
Detergent manufacturers have already tried to make some packaging changes to reduce the eye appeal and risk of children’s getting into them, although other steps have been suggested but not yet implemented. But as with all those other potential opportunities for toddlers and children to sustain serious injury–or worse–through the countless common and less common accidents for which they are at risk, this is one more thing for parents to know about and take the basic measures to prevent.
Although the news coverage has receded a bit, many articles still describe the recent enterovirus 68 outbreak as a “mystery virus.” While there have been hundreds of children affected with the illness and spread to additional states being reported, it is not really a new virus or a particularly mysterious one. While enterovirus is not a household health term, it is a fairly large group of viruses and part of a larger family of common ones. There are a few things about this particular agent that are notable. One is that serotype 68 is not a common type for this time of year. Two, that the outbreak has developed unusually rapidly (though it does coincide with the start of school, so not so remarkable) and this agent has currently been reported in twelve states. Most significantly is that while it usually presents with the common symptoms of many other respiratory viruses–runny nose, sneezing, cough–it does often take on a complicated course in many children with asthma. It is the severe cough and wheezing with the resulting breathing difficulty that is responsible for the large number of children who have had to be hospitalized and in some cases be given respiratory assistance.
As with most respiratory viral illnesses, there is no specific treatment. The approach parents should take if children come down with these symptoms is essentially what is the usual for respiratory viral infection: rest, adequate fluids, appropriate fever control and, generally, avoidance of OTC cold/cough medications. A doctor’s office visit is not necessary for every cold-like illness. The most important component of care is really good observation for indicators that a more severe infection is developing: watching for high fever, severe cough, wheezing or other breathing difficulty, and poor fluid intake or keeping down liquids. And we always add, anything else that suggests a worsening, really sick-appearing child. There should be prompt notification of a physician to determine if a timely office visit (or after hours, an appropriate urgent-care facility evaluation) is warranted.
It is also important to recognize that like most viruses, this one is transmitted from person-to-person. This means that frequent, really careful hand washing with soap, covering the face when coughing or sneezing, and avoidance of shared cups or eating utensils of sick children, is very important. Such measures can help prevent infection or limit its spread to fewer individuals. And, in case you are wondering, there is no vaccine for this or similar respiratory viruses.
As of this posting, there have not been any cases in the Houston area or elsewhere in Texas. Should this change, it will certainly be prominent in the City’s media outlets. Until then, parents should treat respiratory viruses as they generally have, keeping in mind that other viruses can sometimes cause more complicated illnesses, and the same observation as is above is always appropriate.
With a source of discomfort as common as teething in infants–that would be an incidence of about 100%–parents are familiar with the wide variety of approaches to the pain that are utilized. Probably the most familiar is the use of topical products, that is, liquids that are rubbed on the gums for relief. One those, viscous lidocaine (a prescription agent) became the subject of an FDA warning on June 26 that will carry the strong “black box” warning requirement. A study by the agency earlier this year revealed several cases of severe side effects including jitteriness, confusion, swallowing problems, seizures and heart problems, and several fatal cases were reported. These problems occurred either due to overdose due to medication swallowed when the syrup was put in a bottle or on a cloth, or was too frequently or generously applied to the gums. In other cases a child ingested the medication from a bottle. Viscous lidocaine is more often used in older children and adults for more severe and painful mouth sores from viruses or other causes. But this warning has made clear that is should not be used for infant teething.
Lidocaine has never been used as commonly as benzocaine, which is over-the-counter and is found in those well-known products such as Orajel, AnbesoL, Hurricaine, and Orobase. However, benzocaine itself was the target of a 2011 FDA warning due to its role in causing a rare condition called methemagobinemia, in which the capacity for the blood to carry oxygen is impaired, causing cyanotic color,shortness of breath, fatigue, and some other problems. This warning was not as strong, and the risk is probably quite low, but any medication should be safely stored to avoid accidental ingestion.
So what did the FDA suggest for teething pain? Reflecting the AAP’s own recommendations only some pretty simple stuff: gently rubbing the gums with the caretaker’s finger and offering the baby a cool (not overly cold or frozen) teething ring or clean wet washcloth to chew on. The coolness offers some good anesthetic for a short while, and does so without side effects–as long as there is supervision to prevent aspiration of the cloth or teething ring.
The FDA did not appear to address the other common measure for teething discomfort, acetominophen ( Tyenol, ect.) and ibuprofin (Motrin, etc.), and this was a curious omission in the recommendations. These are widely recommended by pediatricians and reliable online sites, and their safety profile is well established. Ibuprofin should not be used under six months of age, and acetominophen has some safety preference.
Final note: teething is as normal part of childhood and on average there is going to be a new tooth to deal with almost monthly starting on average from six months and continuing to about three years of age. That’s 20 episodes. So it makes sense to perceive any “need” for treatment in balance, and certainly to avoid any agents with the potential for harm. As an aside, it is worth noting that families often incorrectly attribute symptoms to teething which it does not cause. When there is significant fever, diarrhea, vomiting or impressive irritibility some other source must be sought.
In Houston, and perhaps in a lot of other places summer and intense sun exposure having been a little slow in showing up this year. Well, good. We’ll take that. But with summer just about upon us, it’s important to keep in mind that adherence to sun protection is particularly vital in children because of thin skin and less pigment (melanin), and evidence suggesting higher risk of later melanoma with frequent childhood sunburn. So anything that facilitates the process of protection of great benefit, especially because frequent reapplication is necessary during water activities.
A recent article in the publication, “Consultant for Pediatricians” presents the case of the use of a relatively new form of protective products, sunscreen sticks. Like lotions, creams, and sprays, sticks some products contain only agents those that physically block solar UVA and UVB radiation, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, while others add organic chemical absorbers which affect UVB only. The article points out that while many parents have a preference to avoid the chemicals in the latter, the authors prefer the combination products for children beyond six months or of any age with sensitive skin.
What are the advantages of the stick products? Several. Unlike creams and lotions, they will not trickle down the skin, making them more comfortable and acceptable near the eye. They are also easy to apply to the really sub-exposed areas of the face such as nose,ears, and cheeks. Their general convenience makes the frequent reapplication more convenient and quicker, providing a more reliable means of getting the children protected every hour or two when water play can cause loss of that protection more quickly.
They also offer several advantages over spray products: they avoid the risk of the chemicals in the spray aerosol from getting in the eyes and nose, are more likely to contain both the forms of protection mentioned above, and provide an easier and more reliable techniques for application that is more evenly distributed and more thoroughly applied. So adherence–acceptance and reliable use–is the bottom line important advantage. And the container size is small and handy.
The article listed well over a dozen specific products with SPF’s ranging from 28 to 50, and varying combination of ingredients, though most were titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The products vary in age use recommendations, water protection effectiveness, and specific facial use or face and body use.
An article on sunscreen should always either start or end with what might be the most important point: sunscreen should never be regarded as the only (or most important) component in protection from sunburn. Time of day, duration of exposure, sun-protective clothing and hats should always be the first tiers of protection. And don’t forget the sunglasses, even in very small children. Hats and sunglasses make for cuter pictures as well.
Acknowledgment: Suncreen Sticks in Children: An Adjuvant Method of Optimal Sun Protection, by Antonov, Garzon, Morel, and Lauren in “Consultant for Pediatricians,” April 2014. HMP Life Sciences Division
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