It's that time of year again, when prepared parents get a jump-start on shopping for school supplies and our children eagerly pick out new backpacks.
As a parent and a pediatrician, I've found that this is the time when it's useful to arm oneself with information about some of the more common ailments and health-related challenges of the season.
While children predictably share everything from strep throat, pinkeye and common cold viruses to dreaded head lice, I've found that it's the back-to-school headaches and stomach aches that leave parents scratching their heads, wondering which ones should be taken seriously.
When it comes to stomach aches, parents often find it difficult to determine which ones are “real” and which are the result of not wanting to go to school.
By “real,” most parents are thinking of the stomach-flu type illnesses that often cause symptoms such as fever, vomiting and diarrhea. It's important for parents to understand, however, that stomach aches not attributable to a virus or other medical cause can still be quite real.
Stress-related stomach aches in school-age children are quite common and are often said to be the equivalent of headaches in adults.
Even if the underlying cause is a child's stress or desire not to attend school, very real symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can result.
It's worthwhile trying to identify and address the underlying cause.
Similarly, the appearance of headaches can cause parents to question whether the headaches are serious or just related to new-school-year nerves.
When it comes to getting a head start on school-year headaches, as well as stomach aches, it's always important to consider the following factors:
- When did the headaches or stomach aches first begin? After the first day of school? During the family's eagerly anticipated summer vacation?
- When do they occur? First thing in the morning? After a long day of reading or computer use?
- How bad are they? Do they make your child stop doing even those things he or she really enjoys? Do they get in the way of chores and going to school?
- What makes them better or worse? Common medical explanations include eyestrain, the need for glasses or the onset of seasonal allergies.
Consult your child's doctor if you need help sorting out stress-related causes of headaches or stomach aches.
Getting a handle on these school-time ailments and remembering to help ensure that your children get a good night's sleep and eat a good breakfast will go a long way toward making this a more enjoyable and productive school year.