Children tend to fall sick more easily, partly due to their immature immune system, their environment and habits. Some of these illnesses may be more common than others, and warrant medical attention when the symptoms are severe or prolonged. Examine your child’s diet and lifestyle, and explore the various ways to boost his immunity!
Common Childhood Illnesses
Common cold – Due to many strains of cold virus, and how easy it is to transmit (both by air and contact), a child may fall sick from cold a few times a year.
Influenza – Compared to the common cold, a flu exhibits a higher fever of up to 40°C, with other symptoms like body aches, chills, headache, sore throat, cough and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. There is higher risk of pneumonia when a young child has influenza.
Pink eye – Pink eye presents as redness in the whites of the eyes, with eye irritation, excessive discharge and swollen eyelids. It could be due to bacterial or viral infection, or allergy.
Hand, food and mouth disease (HFMD) – HFMD’s symptoms include mouth ulcers, small blisters/ rash on the palms or soles, lethargy and loss of appetite.
Gastroenteritis/ Stomach flu – Stomach flu is caused by various virus, bacteria or parasite, and contagious especially if due to norovirus that is common in preschool. A child may experience vomiting, diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain.
Less Common Childhood Illnesses
Appendicitis – Inflammation of the appendix, and the child may complain of pain at the side. Children should be taken to hospital straight away to avoid the appendix rupturing.
Chickenpox – Due to herpes virus, chickenpox is very contagious and can be dangerous in children with compromised immune system.
Conjunctivitis – This is an eye infection that can be caused by bacteria, a virus or allergies, and spreads through skin contact.
Kawasaki disease (KD) – This is an illness that causes inflammation in arteries, veins and capillaries. It also affects the lymph nodes and is a common cause of heart disease in children. Early symptoms include high fever, rash on the torso and groin, bloodshot eyes, bright red, swollen lips, “strawberry” tongue, which appears shiny and bright with red spots, and swollen lymph nodes, hands and feet.
Otitis media – This is a viral or bacterial middle ear infection and can turn serious such as perforation of the ear drum.
Pinworms – These are parasites that reside at the bottom and passed on when a child scratches his anus and touches a toy (which another child then touches and puts his hands in the mouth!).
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – This virus affects the lungs of young children, especially those with compromised immune system. If your child is wheezing, or struggling to breathe, displays extreme lethargy or has bluish tinge on the lips, the child has to be brought to hospital immediately.
Roseola – This is a viral illness that has symptoms such as high fever, congestion, coughing, and a patchy rash that starts on the chest.
Strep Throat – This is caused by streptococcus bacteria, with the main symptom as throat pain that is so severe that swallowing is difficult. There may also be fever, swollen lymph nodes and stomach pain. It is important to see a doctor and be on antibiotics if the diagnosis is strep throat.
Urinary tract infection (UTI) – This is due to bacteria in the genitals that move into the urethra, causing inflammation and infection that leads to pain when passing urine.
Starting Preschool & Boosting Immunity
Parents have generally seen that their children tend to fall sick more often when entering preschool, and this should come as no surprise. Preschool is an environment whereby children interact in close proximity with each other, and these are young children who may not even understand basic hygiene and are very likely to have bad hygiene habits! However, preschool is a necessity for families who need the help with day care, and is a great preparation ground for primary school. Here are some tips on protecting your preschooler from falling sick:
#1 Avoid Contact with Sick People
This is simple to understand, but difficult to control especially if your child is in a preschool. You can check with the preschool their measures to limit the spread of virus/ bacteria and how strict they are in allowing children who are unwell to attend classes. Do your part and not let your child go to the preschool if he is sick!
#2 Be Vaccinated
Adhering to the national vaccination guideline is important, as it offers protection against illnesses that are potentially life-threatening.
#3 Good Hygiene
Teaching your child to wash his hands properly, and remind him not to touch his face or put fingers in his nose or mouth is important. If your child is sick, change his toothbrush and towels to limit further exposure to possible virus/ bacteria.
Having a good nutrition is important; breastfeeding is the main nutrition for babies as breast milk contains antibodies to protect the child from infection. As the child starts solids, do not be afraid to move away from the traditional Asian diet (of porridge) and adopt one filled with mashed vegetables and fruits, such as sweet potato, carrots, butternut squash and antioxidant fruits. You can also check with the pediatrician on supplements, such as probiotics, multivitamins (A, C and E), iron, zinc and omega 3.
#5 Avoid Inflammatory Foods
There is association between inflammatory foods such as sugar, fried foods, trans fat with chronic and inflammatory conditions. Do your part to keep your child away from an unhealthy diet!
#6 Enough Sleep
Preschoolers need 10 hours and more of sleep per day, whether from bedtime or naps. Sleep is very important as it strengthens the immune system.
Exercise benefits both adults and children as it has been researched to boost immunity and reduce the risk of many diseases.
While you do not generally need to be worried if your child falls sick a few times a year, it is best to consult a doctor for a proper review. Should the symptoms be severe, also consider going to the hospital. Symptoms to watch out for include dehydration, rashes, extreme lethargy, high fever, breathing difficulty, poor appetite for more than two days and any preexisting condition which may make your child more vulnerable to complications from common illness.