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Back-to-School Health Checkup

Here's a primer on exactly what your child needs to have a safe and healthy school year.

Health Problems to Watch for:

Lice

Once a child is infected with lice, the tiny bugs can spread quickly to other children though close contact or sharing personal items such as hairbrushes, combs, scarves, and hats. Symptoms include itching, and tiny brown or white eggs called nits may be seen on shafts of hair (although you may need a magnifying glass to see them). If you suspect lice, you can try a nonprescription product to kill the lice or contact a health professional to confirm the diagnosis.

Lice do not usually cause any serious health problems. But contact a doctor if your child develops signs of a skin infection, such as fever, pain, swelling, or redness at the infestation site, or a discharge of pus.

Food Allergies

Although most school cafeterias have been instructed to avoid serving items that might cause a severe allergic reaction, there are still potential pitfalls at school that parents of children with food allergies should prepare for.

Food allergies are more common in children than in adults, although many will outgrow them. The most common foods that cause allergies in children are those with a high protein content, such as peanuts, milk, wheat, soy, and eggs.

If your child has food allergies, you should instruct him to avoid sharing food with classmates or friends at school, and at other events such as bake sales, class outings, or parties. Provide your child with his own food and snacks for field trips and other school-related events where they may encounter problem foods.

In addition, alert the school nurse if your child has a life-threatening food allergy. Your doctor may also prescribe an EpiPen for the nurse to have on hand in case of a severe reaction. These pens deliver a shot of epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) that can open up the airways and allow the child to breathe until medical help arrives.

Pinkeye

Conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, can spread like wildfire in classrooms once a child becomes infected.

Symptoms of pinkeye include redness of the eye, swollen eyelids, itching, discharge or unusual drainage from the eye, and sensitivity to light. Most cases of pinkeye among children are caused by viruses for which there are no medical treatment -- the infection resolves slowly on its own.

That's why it's important to stop the spread of the infection when it appears.

Poor hand washing is the main cause of spreading pinkeye. Sharing an object with someone who has pinkeye can also spread the infection. Children with pinkeye should not attend school until symptoms improve. Most cases clear up within a few days.

Backpack Problems

Overloaded backpacks could injure your child's back. According to the American Chiropractic Association, a child's backpack should weigh no more than 10% of his or her body weight.

If your child routinely lugs around more than what's recommended for her weight, try purchasing a backpack with wheels or one with a support belt to help distribute the weight more evenly.

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Reviewed on July 29, 2004

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