Category Archives: Health and Nutrition

August Is Back to School Safety Month and Immunization Awareness Month!

This month–and it’s more than half over–is Back to School Safety Month. Most parents are considering all the things their children need for a great start of the first weeks of school. Parents are especially focused on the requirements of young children and those who will attend school for the first time: how to keep them safe on their journey to and from school and how to keep them safe around other children in school.

Immunizations are a hot topic of conversation. Which vaccinations do children attending school in your state’s school district require in order to enter school? Before calling your local physician or primary care provider to make an appointment, it is a good idea to call the school your child will attend. Simply ask for the school’s nurse or the principal’s office and request the vaccine requirements for your particular school for your children’s age(s). Since this is a frequently asked question by parents, the answer may even be found on your school’s website!

Much having to do with the administration of vaccines has changed in recent years. At one time, only the DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) vaccine was required in addition to small pox and polio vaccines. The small pox vaccine was an injection and the polio vaccine was administered on a cube of sugar! There were tine tests for TB, and that was the sum total of the required precautions fifty years ago. It’s little wonder that until the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was developed, there were epidemics of measles, mumps, and rubella in children.

Now, the DPT vaccine is more effective than ever and there are vaccines against Hepatitis as well as Haemophilus Influenza type b (or Hib). “Hib” is an important one, especially for parents of young children, to learn about. According to Pediatric’s Vincent Ianelli, MD, children should receive the Hib vaccine at:

  • 2 months of age
  • 4 months of age
  • 6 months of age
  • And 12-15 months of age.

The reason it is important for children to receive the Hib vaccine is that your child can get Hib simply by being around other children or adults who have it. Your child may not become visibly sick, but if Hib bacteria remains in a child’s nose and throat and proceeds to the lungs or bloodstream, serious problems can occur. Before the Hib vaccine, Hib was the principal cause of bacterial meningitis in children. Meningitis, a disease affecting the brain and spinal cord, can cause permanent brain damage and even death. Prior to the development of the vaccine, more than 20,000 children under 5 years old became ill in the U.S. annually, and approximately 1,000 people died from disease-related to Hib each year.

As with any vaccine or medication given to children, parents need to be aware there can be a reaction and should closely monitor children following vaccination. If parents or caregivers observe any high fever, behavioral changes, change in skin pallor (to pale or red), rash or redness of the skin at the injection site, hives, swelling of the airway, difficulty breathing or wheezing following a vaccination, take your child to the Emergency Room immediately or contact your physician. Adverse reactions to any vaccine should be reported to your child’s physician.

Safe Food Preparation for Infants and Toddlers

In the “listen-up” category, everything we know about “sell-by” and “use-by” dates for foods adults consume you can basically toss out the window when it comes to infant formula and baby food.  Infant formula and baby food fall in a completely different category.  The Food and Drug Administration website, provides further details.  Here is some basic information:

Dates on Formula and Baby Food
“Federal regulations require a “use-by” date on the product label of infant formula and the varieties of baby food under FDA inspection. If consumed by that date, the formula or food must contain not less than the quantity of each nutrient as described on the label. Formula must maintain an acceptable quality to pass through an ordinary bottle nipple. If stored too long, formula can separate and clog the nipple.”

“Dating of baby food is for quality as well as for nutrient retention. Just as you might not want to eat stale potato chips, you wouldn’t want to feed your baby meat or other foods that have an off flavor or texture.”

“The “use-by” date is selected by the manufacturer, packer, or distributor of the product on the basis of product analysis throughout its shelf life; tests; or other information. It is also based on the conditions of handling, storage, preparation, and use printed on the label. Do not buy or use baby formula or baby food after its ‘use-by’ date.”

Preventing Foodborne Illness

Another food preparation rule we always need to keep in mind when preparing formula or baby foods for consumption by infants and toddlers is that cleanliness in the kitchen and safe food handling can prevent foodborne illness.  Just as washing our hands is important in preventing the spread of colds and flu–it’s also extremely important in preparing and handling food for our family, especially for our children.

Mishandled food can lead to foodborne illness, it’s just that simple.  The Partnership for Food Safety Education developed the “FightBac”® campaign which advised 4 simple ways to help eliminate the possibility of bacteria getting into food. In the kitchen, make sure you:

  • Clean: Wash hands with warm, soapy water and wash surfaces often;
  • Separate:  Don’t cross-contaminate!  Keep meat, fish, and poultry away from other food.  Utensils that have touched them should be washed immediately.
  • Cook: Heat food to proper safe, minimum, internal temperatures.
  • Chill: Refrigerate food promptly.

Making sure hands are clean before we handle our children’s foods sounds like a fairly simple matter, until we list all the ways we can contaminate food.  Always wash hands before handling food; after handling food; after using the bathroom; after changing a diaper; after tending to a sick child; after blowing nose, coughing or sneezing; and after handling pets. In addition to making sure that when we handle food, our hands are clean, everything that touches food must be clean.  If you use a thermometer to test the temperature of baby’s food or milk, it must be washed and dried after using, each and every time.  Using a dishwasher helps to sterilize dishes, bottles, containers, and utensils.

Let’s Talk About Nasal Allergies and Children!

It’s summer time and the heat is on.  A lot of children are going to the local pool with their parents.  Some are swimming in lakes, wading in ponds, or playing in the sand.  There’s lots of pollen from grass, trees, summer weeds, and flowers in the air, whether your children are at the lake, beach, pond, camping in the woods or backyard, or visiting down on the farm. If children have been playing outside a good bit of the day and they have difficulty breathing through their nose at night, should we be concerned? Although we know it’s not winter and they may not have caught cold, why all the congestion, watery eyes, stuffy noses, and sneezing?

The answer is yes, we should be concerned; and to be more informed we need to know the symptoms of nasal allergies in kids.  The symptoms are very similar to those of the common cold–and may or may not be accompanied by a sore or itchy throat:

  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or itchy nose, often accompanied by watery eyes.

According to scientists, nasal allergies affect an estimated 40 million Americans, and 40 percent of the American child population.  Nasal allergies are believed to be the most prevalent cause of nasal congestion in children.

When a child experiences the symptoms of a nasal allergy, their immune system reacts often quickly by manufacturing an antibody in the child’s system to fight the allergen’s challenge.  The antibody sends a message to the brain causing a histamine to be released into the bloodstream–which causes nasal inflammation and its symptoms, such as nasal congestion, sneezing, and that itchy or runny nose, watery eyes, and possibly a scratchy throat.

Nasal allergic reactions in children frequently occur when a child is exposed to things in the air–allergic challenges–such as pollens (from grass, weeds, trees, flowers), mold, mildew, house dust, and even, sadly, good old Spot or Kitty and their pet dander.

Nasal allergies are particularly prevalent in the summer because children are more exposed to allergic challenges in the air.  They play out of doors more in the warm weather.  They may go to other areas of the country to visit relatives or go on family trips to very different surroundings, where they experience the pollens of different plants, trees, flowers, the dander of different pets, and even different house dust.  Swimming in a favorite lake that was surrounded by farm fields as a child, I frequently came out of the lake with a stuffed up nose and itchy eyes and spent the rest of the afternoon sniffing and sneezing, not playing!  Not fun for anyone!

If your child begins to experience nasal allergy symptoms this summer, it’s a good idea before you medicate to consult your pediatrician.  You do want to make sure this is either an allergy or something else like a sinus infection.  Medicines, such as antihistamines, are available, both over-the-counter and by prescription from your physician, but you need to find the right medicine for your child.  You need to observe what causes the inflammation to occur and learn how your child reacts to allergy medicines.  There are allergy tests your physician may want your child to have, to be more certain about what kind of allergic reaction your child may be experiencing.  It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before you give your child any medicine! And don’t forget that other safety tip, keep all medicines away from children when the medicines are not in use. Locking your medicine cabinet is being pro-active with regard to child safety.

In the meantime, is wishing you a safe and happy summer!

Young Children and Cold Medicines – New Findings

Cold and flu season is upon us.  When we’re unlucky enough to come down with something, it’s almost second nature to reach a multi-symptom cold medicine.  New findings show that, when it comes to children, parents should think twice before giving such medications to their children.

Last year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced that leading manufacturers of pediatric cough and cold medicines are adding a warning to their products’ labels, “Don’t use over-the-counter pediatric cough and cold medicines in children younger than 4.”  FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Janet Woodcock, MD, says FDA supports the label “change” and drug manufacturers are doing this voluntarily.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that over-the-counter cough and cold medications not be given to infants and children younger than 2 years because of the risk of life-threatening side effects. Also, several studies show that cold and cough products don’t work in children younger than 6 years and can have potentially serious side effects.

The New York Times recently reported results of a new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study on unintentional medication overdoses in children which “indicates 8 percent of emergency room visits and 14 percent of hospitalizations were caused by parents accidentally overdosing their children.”

The study, which looks at causes for emergency room visits, estimates that 70,000 children under 18 years of age visit emergency rooms annually suffering from unintentional medication overdoses causing adverse drug events. More importantly, 75 percent of the overdoses occurred in children under age 5.

CDC’s web page on child medication safety further indicates that the number one cause of emergency room visits due to adverse drug events in young children under the age of 5 is the unsupervised consumption of medicines.  CDC also notes, according to WebMD, that 7,000 children under 11 go to emergency rooms each year after taking cough and cold medicines. Roughly two-thirds of those adverse drug events occurred after children consumed medication while unsupervised.

CDC recommends the following guidelines when dispensing medications to children:

  • Always recap and store medicines out of the reach and out of sight of children.
  • Carefully administer medicines as directed on the label or as instructed by a physician or pharmacist.
  • Use prescription and over-the-counter medicines only when needed.

Tips for parents:

  • Children should never be left alone with any medicines. If you are giving or taking medicine and you need to do something else, such as answer the phone, take the medicine with you.
  • Do not leave medicines out after using them. Store medicines in lockable medicine cabinets or other childproof cabinets out of reach of young children.
  • Check to make sure medicines you purchase for your child are in child-resistant packaging that you know how to open and close properly.
  • Place the Poison Control Center number, 1-800-222-1222, on or near every home telephone and save this number to your cell phone.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association would add to this:

  • Do not give medicine intended only for adults to a child.
  • Do not use two medicines at the same time which contain the same ingredients.

We say, with children’s’ medicines, “Read the label, recap the bottle, store it away safely; make sure you know what’s in a cough-cold med IF you administer these to your children during the coming cold and flu season. Over-the-counter child meds that used to be considered “safe” may no longer be safe.  So it’s good to be aware and be prepared.

Child Safety in the Kitchen

It’s the holiday season, and families are coming together from near and far.  Almost without fail, we all tend to congregate in the kitchen.   Certainly people are attracted to the wonderful smells and holiday treats, but it’s more than that – the kitchen table instinctively seems to be a gathering place for friends and family.

It’s also a fun place for kids.  Sweets are often there for the taking, and it’s fun for children to help out with cooking and baking projects.  Cooking with Jane and Libby is one of my favorite activities to do together, and they are having fun learning a skill that they can enjoy for a lifetime (and they also get to taste the sugar).  In addition to making our time in the kitchen fun, there are a few simple precautions that can keep them safe, as well.  Go to the next page for a few tips on how to keep kids safe while they’re in the kitchen.

Child safety tips for the kitchen:

1)  Keep the handle of pots on stove turned inwards.  Scaldings from pots that are tipped over present the greatest danger of serious injuries in the kitchen.  65% of burn injuries to children under four who are hospitalized are the result of scalding.  Toddlers and young children are naturally curious, and are unable to look out for their own safety.  These accidents can happen in seconds, so make sure to develop the habit of turning pot handles inwards.

2)  Purchase a stove guard to prevent young hands from reaching up towards the stove.

3)  If children are standing on a chair or stool to help with a project, make sure they are far enough away from the stove so that they can’t tip and fall onto it.

4)   If children are old enough to be working at the stove, make sure they do not wear clothing that is too loose fitting — be especially careful of sleeves that hang down.

5)  Keep knives stored safely out of reach of young children.  When children do become old enough to responsibly use knives, teach them safe handling techniques.  If you need a refresher course on how to safely handle and use kitchen knives, click here.

6)  Practice and teach safe food handling techniques.  Use different cutting boards (or separate sides of the same board) for meats and produce.  After handling poultry, thoroughly wash your hands, any utensils that touched the meat, and all cutting boards.

7)  Finally, pick projects that are age appropriate.  This tip is more for fun than for safety.  Baking is probably more fun for young kids than cooking.  The projects are fairly quick, and children can participate in simple ways, such as helping add ingredients that have already been measured.  Kids also have fun tasting the finished product.

Here’s a good link for childproofing a kitchen.

Have fun — if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, add them below, or email me, Bryan Slaughter, at,  Thanks, and have a happy and safe holiday season.

A Shout Out and Thank You to Shriners Hospitals for Children

No matter how much we try to educate ourselves and our kids about health and safety, it’s a sad fact of life that serious illnesses and accidents are going to happen.  When they do, we can only hope that a child gets the best health care possible.  One institution that has been singularly dedicated to children for more than 80 years is the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

I’m writing about the Shriners because I had occasion to speak with one of their doctors last week — one of the preeminent pediatric burn doctors in the nation.  I can only imagine what this doctor sees on a day-to-day basis, and it brings up the larger point about what Shriners does and how they do it.  Shriners has 22 hospitals, all dedicated to taking care of children.  They treat children up to age 18 for serious orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries (SCI) and cleft palate and lip conditions.  And the amazing thing — they do this all at no charge and without regard to financial need.

Think about that.  In this day and age where health care costs are gong through the roof, and many children don’t even have access to good care at all, Shriners provides care at no cost to those children who need it most.  In addition to their direct care for children, its mission also includes research into the conditions they treat, and also the education of medical professionals.

Over the years, Shriner’s hospitals have treated hundreds of thousands of children with all types of serious injuries. The institution and its dedicated professionals deserve a huge thank you.  If you are interested in making a donation to this worthy cause, or want more information about doing so, go here.

If you want to contact Bryan Slaughter or the Child Safety Blog, go here.