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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Heart Screenings for Athletes - Are they worth it?

In recent years I've been getting more and more reports of athletic heart screenings. The schools and sports clubs locally are offering for athletes to get a heart work up for a relatively small fee.



Why are they offering this? Because sudden cardiac death in athletes has been in the news a lot over the years, and we all want to minimize the risk that our child has an undiagnosed heart condition that may cause sudden death when exercising. We want to prevent sudden death by identifying those at risk and keeping them from the activities that increase risk. Communities and schools now are more likely to have defibrillators on hand in case of problems, but some children might benefit from an implantable defibrillator. (Side note: if you've not taken a CPR class in the past few years, a lot has changed, including teaching people how to use defibrillators. And you no longer follow "A B C" so it is very different. CPR is recommended for all teens and adults.)

Is the cost of a heart screen worth it?

A new report, Assessment of the 12-Lead ECG as a Screening Test for Detection of Cardiovascular Disease in Healthy General Populations of Young People (12–25 Years of Age): A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, is a review of whether or not electrocardiograms (ECGs) are beneficial for all athletes prior to sport participation and is endorsed by the Pediatric and Congenital Electrophysiology Society and American College of Sports Medicine.

There has been a lot of controversy over the years whether or not routine ECG screening of athletes is a a cost-effective means to find at risk young people. Northeastern Italy has done a comprehensive screening program of competitive athletes and has lowered their sudden cardiac death rate, which is evidence for the ECG screening. Despite this shown benefit, there are many problems with the feasibility of testing a broad range of athletes to evaluate for risk of sudden death (SD). Complex issues from the Statement linked above:
  1. the low prevalence of cardiovascular diseases responsible for SD in the young population
  2. the low risk of SD among those with these diseases
  3. the large sizes of the populations proposed for screening
  4. the imperfection of the 12-lead ECG as a diagnostic test in this venue 
It is generally agreed upon that screening to detect cardiovascular abnormalities in otherwise healthy young competitive athletes is justifiable in principle on ethical, legal, and medical grounds. Reliable exclusion of cardiovascular disease by such screening may provide reassurance to athletes and their families.

In short: To do an ECG screening on all athletes is not inheritantly unwarranted nor discouraged, but it isn't recommended either.

Although an ECG is not recommended, it is recommended to do a 14 point questionnaire for all athletes at their pre-participation sports exam. This is available below.

Positive findings on the history (questionnaire) or physical exam may require further testing, but using an ECG as the initial screen for underlying problems in the 12- to 25-year age group hasn’t been found to save lives.

Changes in the heart in growing teenagers can make it difficult to tell if an ECG is abnormal or a variation for age (unless read by a pediatric cardiologist, which is often not possible for these mass screenings).

False negative and positive results can lead to missed diagnoses (normal ECG but real underlying condition) or unneeded testing (abnormal ECG with a normal heart).

Mass ECG screening of athletes would be very expensive.
If your family can bear the cost and wants to do the screening, it should be done. But if the screen is abnormal, do not jump to the conclusion that your athlete will be banned from sports forever. A more complete exam by a pediatric cardiologist will sort that out.

Know that hearts can change over time, so one normal screen does not guarantee there will never be a cardiac event in your child.

If you do not feel that the screening is something you want to pay for or if you feel that it is not necessary for your child who has a negative 14 point screening, you should not be required to do so. The evidence does not support mass required screenings.

If however, your child has identified risks based on the questionnaire, a more thorough testing should be done.




These 14 points are listed in Table 1 of the above linked statement:

The 14-Element AHA Recommendations for Preparticipation Cardiovascular Screening of Competitive Athletes

Medical history* 
  Personal history
    1. Chest pain/discomfort/tightness/pressure related to exertion
    2. Unexplained syncope/near-syncope†
    3. Excessive and unexplained dyspnea/fatigue or palpitations, associated with exercise
    4. Prior recognition of a heart murmur
    5. Elevated systemic blood pressure
    6. Prior restriction from participation in sports
    7. Prior testing for the heart, ordered by a physician

 Family history
    8. Premature death (sudden and unexpected, or otherwise) before 50 y

of age attributable to heart disease in 1 relative
    9. Disability from heart disease in close relative <50 y of age

    10. Hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy, long-QT syndrome, or other ion channelopathies, Marfan syndrome, or clinically significant arrhythmias; specific knowledge of genetic cardiac conditions in family members

Physical examination
    11. Heart murmur‡
    12. Femoral pulses to exclude aortic coarctation 

    13. Physical stigmata of Marfan syndrome
    14. Brachial artery blood pressure (sitting position)§

AHA indicates American Heart Association.
*Parental verification is recommended for high school and middle school athletes.
†Judged not to be of neurocardiogenic (vasovagal) origin; of particular concern when occurring during or after physical exertion.
‡Refers to heart murmurs judged likely to be organic and unlikely to be innocent; auscultation should be performed with the patient in both the supine and standing positions (or with Valsalva maneuver), specifically to identify murmurs of dynamic left ventricular outflow tract obstruction.
§Preferably taken in both arms.
Modified with permission from Maron et al.3 Copyright © 2007, American Heart Association, Inc. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How long will a cough or cold last?

How long will a cough or cold last?

I get this question all the time. Most people want it gone now. Unfortunately despite our medical advancements over the years, we still have no cure for colds and coughs. Viruses do not get killed by antibiotics, and most colds and coughs are caused by viruses.

Unfortunately our area has been hit with Enterovirus D68, which seems to cause prolonged symptoms compared to many respiratory viruses.

I don't hold back on advice when I see kids with disturbing colds and coughs. I sympathize with the child and parents. I've been there: both as a person with a bad cold and as a parent watching my kids struggle with colds. But I still can't make them better faster.

cough, cold, sore throat, fever, earache, bronchitis


We have our standard instructions:

  • Fluids (water)
  • Rest
  • Saline washes to the nose
  • Blow the mucus out. If a child's too young to blow his nose well, parents can suck the snot right out.
  • Honey for children over 12 months of age
  • Prop the head up during sleep
  • Prevent spread
But then we still have the original question: How long will a cough or cold last?

One of my favorite graphs depicting the timeline of a typical upper respiratory infection is from research done in the 1960's, but since we don't have any better treatment now than we did back then, I find it to hold true to what I experience when I get a cold and what I see in the office.


Notice how the symptoms are most severe during the first 1-5 days, but still persist for at least 14 days. And at 14 days 20% of people still have a cough, 10% still have a runny nose. And the lines aren't going down fast at that point, they both seem to linger. 

A more recent review of medical studies showed that the many symptoms of illness linger for much longer than parents want to accept. From this study:
* Earache range 7-8 days, Sore throat 2-7 days

Bear in mind that children tend to get about 8 colds per year, often in the fall/winter months, so a second virus might start developing symptoms right as the first cold is finally going away. That is an important distinction between back to back illnesses versus a sinus infection requiring antibiotics. This is why doctors and nurses ask (and re-ask) about symptoms. The history and timeline of symptoms are very important in a proper diagnosis. It isn't the color of the mucus (really!) We don't want people to unnecessarily take antibiotics. That leads to bacterial resistance, side effects of medicine, and increased cost to families.

So if you're struggling with cough and cold symptoms in your house, follow these instructions. To help determine when your child needs to be seen:
Urgently or emergently: If your child is breathing more than 60 times in a minute, ribs are going in and out with breaths, or the belly is sucking in and out with each breath, your child needs to be seen in the office, at urgent care or an ER (preferably one that specializes in children), depending on time of day and your location. Another complication that kids must be seen for is dehydration. Dehydration may be present when the child is unable to take in enough fluids to make urine at least 4 times a day for infants, twice a day for older children. 
Routine office visits: If your child has ear pain, trouble sleeping, or general fussiness but is otherwise breathing comfortably and well hydrated, he should be seen during regular office hours. If the cold is worsening after 10-14 days, bring your child in during regular office hours.


More reading:



Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis and Management of Acute Bacterial Sinusitis in Children Aged 1 to 18 Years

How Long Does a Cough Last? Comparing Patients’ Expectations With Data From a Systematic Review of the Literature

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Swollen Eyelids: Causes, Treatments, and When to Worry

There are many causes of swollen eyelids in kids (and adults). The good news is that the most common ones are usually not serious. Some swellings herald warning though and should be properly evaluated and treated by a doctor. Warning signs include vision changes, pain, protrusion of the eye, fever, difficulty breathing, abnormal eye movements (or loss of movement), foreign body that cannot be removed, or signs of anaphylaxis (swollen tongue or throat, difficulty breathing, hives). Any warning signs deserve prompt medical attention.

swollen eyelids, eyes, bug bites, cellulitis



Allergies can make the eyelids puffy due to the histamine reaction. This is usually accompanied by itching, red eyes that are watery. Treatment involves either oral allergy medicines, topical allergy medicine (eye drops) or a combination of both. Washing the face, hair, and eyes after exposure to allergen can also be an important part of treatment.

Anaphylaxis is a more serious allergic reaction. It involves swelling of the eyelids, throat, and airways. This is a medical emergency. If epinephrine is available, use it. Call 911.

Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids that can cause swollen lids, often with flaky eyelid skin and loss of the lashes. This chronic condition should be managed by an eye care specialist.

Bug bites are the most common cause of swollen eyelids we see in our office. Usually there is a known exposure to insects and there may be other bug bites on the body. Bug bites on the eyelid tend to itch rather than hurt despite the significant swelling they produce. There should be no fever or other signs of illness. The eyeball should move freely in the socket. (See "orbital cellulitis" below.) Treatment of bug bites involves cool compresses and oral antihistamines. Occasionally oral steroids are required for significant swelling, but they require a prescription. If the swelling is concerning to you or your child, bring him in to be seen.

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, causes inflammation of the surface of the eye ball and sometimes a puffy appearance to the eye lids. It can be from bacteria, virus, or allergies. Bacterial conjunctivitis causes the whites of the eyes to look red and includes a yellow discharge from the eye. Viral conjunctivitis causes the white of the eye to look red, but there is no yellow discharge. Allergic conjunctivitis is described above under "allergies." If unsure which type your child has, or if it is probably bacterial, see your doctor.

Contact lenses can contribute to swollen eyes if they are dirty or damaged. See your eye doctor in this case.

Crying can cause the eye lids to become puffy. The lacrimal glands produce an overflow of tears, so the fine tissues around the eyes absorb the fluid, causing them to appear swollen. This is compounded by the autonomic nervous system increasing blood flow to the face during times of strong emotion and rubbing the eyes to wipe away the tears. This cause of swelling is short lived. Cool compresses and avoidance of rubbing can help decrease the swelling.

Graves' disease can cause swelling of the eyelids and protruding eyes. Sometimes a drooping eyelid or double vision occurs. It is caused by thyroid problems, which also can cause problems with appetite, fatigue, heat intolerance, and more. These symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor.

Kidney problems can lead to fluid retention. If the eyes are puffy along with puffiness of the ankles or swelling of the abdomen, kidney problems should be considered. Children can develop this suddenly from infections, like certain diarrheal illnesses or Strep throat. The urine may look tea colored or like it has blood in it. This is a medical emergency and you should seek care immediately.

Sinus infections can cause puffy eyelids. Congestion, runny nose, headache, postnasal drip, and cough are typical symptoms. See your doctor if you suspect sinusitis.

Styes look like a swelling at the edge of the eyelid, often red or pink with a small white central area. It is caused by a blockage in one of the small glands in the eyelid. Another swelling from blockage of oil glands of the eyelid is a chalazion. Both a stye and a chalazion can start as painful bumps, but after a few days they no longer hurt. They can cause the whole eyelid to swell. Applying warm packs to the area several times per day often helps treat styes. Chalazions more often need to see an ophthalmologist for treatment. If a stye persists beyond a few months or the lid swells to cover the pupil, see your doctor.

Trauma of the eye or nose, like any trauma, can cause swelling. A broken nose can cause swelling and bruising to the eyelids. Any significant trauma to the eye or nose should be seen by a doctor. Symptoms may include vision changes, chemical exposure, foreign body in the eye, blood in the eye, severe pain, or nausea or vomiting after injury.

Ocular herpes is an infection of the eye by the herpes virus. (Not all herpes infections are sexually transmitted!) It can appear initially like a blister or cluster of blisters near the eye. It can lead to permanent damage to the eye, so prompt care by an ophthalmologist is important.

Orbital cellulitis is a potentially serious infection of the eyelids. The infection can extend behind the eyes, causing meningitis. It is suspected when there is painful swelling of the upper and lower eyelids, fever, bulging eyes, vision problems, and pain with eye movement (or inability to move the eyes). This is a medical emergency and if suspected, prompt medical attention is warranted. Treatment involves iv antibiotics. To assess the extent of swelling or to differentiate between pre-septal cellulitis (which is not into the deep tissues) and orbital cellulitis, imaging is often done.

Ptosis, or drooping of the eyelid, can look like a swollen lid. There are many causes and this should be evaluated by a doctor.

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