Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sick, Sick, and More Sick.

Photo source: Shutterstock
It isn't news that we are experiencing a rough winter as far as illnesses go. Flu is all over the news. Schools have high rates of absenteeism. You hear coughs wherever you are in public places.

A few nuggets of information that might help you treat your family this sick season:


Fever is a symptom of illness and makes us feel achey and miserable, but the number on the thermometer does not necessarily correlate with the diagnosis or treatment needed. Look at your child. If they are happy with a fever, over 3 months and immunized, let it run its course. If they complain of pain (or if your immunized infant over 2-3 months is fussy) give a pain reliever/fever reducer. Push fluids to avoid dehydration. Treat other symptoms as needed. Don't worry if the temperature on the thermometer goes up ~ worry if your child is in severe pain, having difficulty breathing, or looks dehydrated.


Coughs do not need medicine generally. Honey (for those over 1 year) has been shown to be safer and more effective than other cough suppressants. Adding humidification to the air does wonders to loosen mucus and ease breathing.

If the cough is accompanied by rapid breathing, sucking in of the ribs or abdomen, or followed by vomiting, your child should be seen by a medical practitioner for further evaluation and treatment.

If your child has a history of asthma or other wheezing, it is okay to see if the rescue medicine (albuterol or levalbuterol) helps the cough. If not, it either is really bad wheezing that needs further evaluation or a cough. And don't forget your prevention medicine if you use it!

If your child has been exposed to whooping cough and develops a cough, please see your medical provider for evaluation and treatment.

Water's Power

Water is good for most illnesses. Increase fluids to prevent dehydration and help the body repair itself. Sips of water can help a sore throat and ease a cough. Add humidification to the air when the weather is cold and dry. Use saline to clear the mucus from the nose and open nasal passageways. Never underestimate the power of water!


Tamiflu is recommended for certain high risk people who are exposed to or sick with influenza. Prophylaxis can be given to prevent illness in children over 1 year of age who have known exposure within the past 48 hours if they meet high risk indications. Treatment of illness can be given to those over 2 weeks of age if they meet high risk criteria. There are shortages beginning this season and resistance can easily develop, so its use should be limited to those who truly need it.

High risks include: less than 2 years, lung disorders, immunologic disorders (immune compromised), chronic metabolic disease, and neuromuscular disorders.

If influenza symptoms have been present for more than 48 hours, it is not indicated unless there are special circumstances.

Tamiflu shortens the symptoms of influenza by 26 hours, about a day. It can help prevent the spread of the virus. It can have side effects, most commonly nausea and vomiting, but also more serious rashes and neurologic symptoms (confusion, delirium, and hallucinations).

Flu Vaccine

Vaccination is the best prevention against influenza. It does not make people get the flu. It is safe and indicated for everyone over 6 months of age. Thank you to all my patients who were vaccinated this year!  Although it is not 100% effective, it should lessen the risk of influenza to you.

Please don't wait to see if it will be a bad season before deciding if it's worth it to get the vaccine. Once the season has started it is less effective because it takes your body about 2 weeks to build immunity. Waiting also puts you at risk for being left out if there are shortages. Our office gave more vaccine than ever this year, but we still ran out earlier than ever this year.

If your family still needs the vaccine, check your local health department and pharmacies.  When we start vaccinating again this summer for next season, be sure to get your family vaccinated! (We will publicize availability on our website, Facebook page, and by email to those registered on our website.)

Vomiting and/or diarrhea

Vomiting and diarrhea can result from many viruses, usually NOT influenza. Treat with an electrolyte solution (such as Pedialyte, Gatorade's G2 - less sugar than regular). Give small volumes frequently. When kids get thirsty, they might gulp and then vomit, so put only 1 teaspoon in a small cup or syringe, or give a popsicle made of the electrolyte solution. Juice, carbonated lemon/lime drinks, and other high sugar drinks should be avoided.

Dairy increases stomach upset, and I generally say to avoid all milk products (except human milk) for 48 hours after the last vomiting or diarrhea. Breast milk can sometimes be tolerated, but it must be given slowly too, so often breast feeding should be stopped. Pump and give the expressed milk by the teaspoon in a syringe.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Facebook Tips to Not Miss Page Posts

This is an off topic blog, but I use Facebook regularly to share great health and behavior tips to parents, and I find that only a small percentage of them are able to see the posts regularly. It makes sense that if you have hundreds of friends plus follow scores of pages, you won't see every post every day. But if you really like a page and want to be sure to see all of its posts, I have found the best way is to add it to an interest group. There are two ways to add pages to your interest group, both described below.

I have seen many posts about how to make things show in your News Feed by selecting "Get Notifications" and "Show in News Feed", but I find that those simply don't work. (I follow many pages since I administrate my office FB page, so maybe that affects it, but I still miss pages that way.)

You will be able to set up various interest lists if you want. (They STILL don't always show up in your news feed, see BIG TIP below.)

First, log into Facebook for either method of setting up interest groups or adding to your group. (Note: if you are a page administrator, you must be logged in as your personal account, not your Page.)

First method: This works well if you are on a page and want to add it to an interest group. Click on the little gear/arrow (in blue below) and then add to Interest Lists.

Second method:  This works well if you want to add several favorite pages all at once or if you want to follow an interest group that is public.

From the Home screen view: Along the left sidebar there are several categories: Favorites, Apps, Interests, and more.  Before you set up interests, it will just have "Add Interests..."  Once you have set them up, you can select the Interest Group you want to see.  My Interests are pictured here:
The blue Interest "Work help" is one I've made, and it consists of pages I often find interesting articles to repost. "Health Causes" and "Child Causes" (green) are standard public groups that I follow to see if I find new pages to "Like".  If you click on "Add Interests..." you will find many pages either similar to pages you already follow or ones your friends follow.  You can also make your own interest group(s), which is where you can put pages you don't want to miss:

BIG TIP: Once you have your interest groups set, you need to remember to actually look at them since they don't automatically pull into your news feed. The only pages that show up at that point are those from that group. (No friend updates or other pages.) You will then simply click on "Home" to return to your usual News Feed.

I hope this helps... at least until Facebook changes its settings again!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Evolution of Illness

When kids are sick, parents understandably want them to feel better quickly. They want a sound night's sleep. They want to be able to return to work/school. They want to see a happy, healthy child again. They come to our office hoping for answers and a cure.

Sometimes there is no quick fix, just treating symptoms and time.

This is the season we are seeing a lot of sickness. It's been about 11 years, but I remember the frustrations of having a sick baby when my daughter had bronchiolitis. Some of the details are muddy, but I remember the feelings of inadequacy because I couldn't help her feel any better any faster. I knew the illness tends to get worse before it gets better and there is little we can do to alter its course, but knowing this it didn't make me feel any better as the mom who was helpless.

I lost sleep for several nights as I watched her pant (not breathe, but pant). I resorted to giving asthma-type breathing treatments (because my son had wheezing so we had everything we needed to give a treatment at home) despite the fact that they didn't seem to help her much. It was probably the humidified air that helped more than anything. But the vaporizer in her room and the saline to suction her nose wasn't helping, so I wanted to at least try the asthma medicine. She kept wheezing. We brought her in to the office 3 days in a row to have someone else check her. I can't check oxygen levels at home and needed someone to objectively examiner her.  So three days in a row we went in for repeat exams. She was able to maintain her oxygen level and stay hydrated despite breathing 60-70 times/minute for days. I still don't know how. I remember wishing her oxygen level would drop enough that we could hospitalize her, not critically, just enough. Then she'd be on monitors, and maybe I could sleep a bit knowing someone else was watching her. Thankfully she never got that sick, and eventually we were all sleeping again, but it took a long time for that.

So I understand the frustration when we tell parents things to do at home and ask that they come back in  __ days or if ___, ____, ___ symptoms worsen. It really isn't that we are holding out on a treatment that will fix the illness, it's just that we don't have a quick fix for many illnesses. We need to be able to examine at different points in the evolution of the illness to get a full picture of what is going on.

The exam can tell us a lot, but it doesn't predict the future. One minute ears can look normal, the next they develop signs of an infection. I cannot say how many times I've heard a parent complain that someone else "missed" something on exam that I now see. Yes, sometimes things can be missed, but I suspect that most of the times the exam has simply changed.

I learned this phenomenon as a resident on the inpatient unit. I had a patient who had been admitted for an abdominal issue. I did a physical on the child in the morning before rounds, including looking at ears, which were normal. Late that afternoon the nurse called because a fever had started. New symptom, so another exam was done. This time the ears were red and full of pus. Within hours this child had developed a double ear infection. I examined the ears both times and they were definitely different.

I understand the frustration (and expense) to take kids back in to be seen if symptoms worsen, change, or simply just don't resolve at home. If symptoms change, we need to re-evaluate, which includes an exam. Medical providers cannot look into the future to see what will develop. It is not appropriate (or effective) to put kids on an antibiotic or iv fluids to prevent the illness from taking its natural progression. Sometimes we need time to see how the illness progresses to see what other treatments might be needed.

When parents call back and want something else done, they are often upset that we want to see the child again. I hear many types of complaints.
Money is probably the biggest issue. It is not because we want your co pay. The "we" I use here is not just my office and I am not speaking of any particular situation. With online doctor rating sites, social media sites, and knowing doctors around the country, I write with many examples in mind. I've seen online complaints that doctors are just money hungry, trying to get someone to come back in just so we can charge more money. It is true that we charge for every visit. We are not able to waive the co pay because we did "something wrong" or "missed a diagnosis" the first time. Each is a separate visit with updated information and a separate exam. Insurance contracts dictate that a separate co pay is charged. We must adhere to legal contracts or it would be considered insurance fraud.
Increasing our numbers for "production" is sometimes brought up. It is not because we want to fill our waiting room with more children to increase the waiting time for everyone else. We don't want to waste your time or ours. But we need to see a child to know what is happening at that moment to be able to give any valuable advice and treatment.
We want to see your child again because we need to see your child to know what to do. Maybe now the child's symptoms have changed.  Maybe not, but without the history and exam we do not know. The exam might now show wheezing, low oxygen levels, a new ear infection or sounds of pneumonia. Sometimes the exam still is overall normal, but the fever's been going on long enough without any identifiable cause, which requires lab and/or xray evaluation. 
Please remember that if you get a different answer at a different visit, it doesn't mean that the first assessment was wrong. Usually it is due to a progression of the illness, and things change. Human bodies are not static.