When parents call me about rashes, I often hear that a child has “hives.” In most cases, parents use this term incorrectly. The question is, does that matter?
The factors that cause most rashes in children are environmental (insect bites, heat rash, allergic reactions) or infectious (viruses, bacterial, fungal). Hives are usually caused by viruses, but they can also occur with strep and allergic reactions to foods. (If you suspect that your child has hives because of an allergic reaction to a food, you should give him Benadryl and call the doctor right away. If your child also has coughing or trouble breathing, you should call 911 in case he’s having an anaphylactic reaction.)
The thing that distinguishes hives from other rashes is the margin between the normal skin and the rash. Most of the rashes children get consist of flat areas with or without a scale and small, raised bumps. (Doctors call flat rashes macules, bumps papules and hives wheals.) Papules come in different sizes, but they have one thing in common. The region between normal skin and the lesion rises slowly like a hill. With wheals (hives), the region between normal skin and the lesion rises more sharply, like a plateau. If you’ve ever seen a welt, the raised area at the edge is more characteristic of a wheal than a papule.
Most children contract hand, foot and mouth syndrome before kindergarten. The infection is usually caused by a member of the Coxsackie virus family. It typically presents with fever, sore throat and small blisters on the palms and soles. Some strains of the virus also cause a red bumpy rash on the body. The treatment is the same as it is for most viral infections: rest, fluids and fever control.
When I see kids with hand, foot and mouth syndrome, parents usually ask two questions. (1) How long is the child contagious? (2) When can she go back to daycare or school? The answer to the first question surprises parents. They’re contagious for 2 to 3 weeks after they get sick. The answer to the second question surprises them even more. Kids can return to school as soon as they feel better. What? How can doctors send kids back to school when they’re still contagious? The rationale for this is simple. Up to 20% of children with hand, foot and mouth syndrome are asymptomatic. This means they contracted the virus and are spreading it to others even though they’re not sick themselves. That fact, combined with the long contagious period, means keeping kids home will have no impact on the spread of the disease. That’s why we send them back when they feel better.
Parents often ask if babies need firm, high top shoes once they start to walk. This is especially true if they previously talked to a grandparent or a shoe salesman who recommended a “supportive shoe” so the baby learns to walk properly.
Shoes accomplish four things in babies.
- They keep feet warm on cold days.
- They provide protection from hard or sharp objects.
- They provide traction on slick surfaces.
- They go nice with certain outfits.
What shoes do not do is provide support or teach a baby to walk better. When babies first learn to walk, going barefoot is best. This allows them to feel the floor and makes it easier for them to stand on their toes, which babies love to do. So the best shoe for a baby is a soft, flexible shoe that has good traction on the bottom. The only advantage of a high top shoe is that it’s almost impossible for the baby to pull it off. This may come in handy at church or synagogue.
I often joke with parents that my gynecologic knowledge is limited because most female adolescent patients prefer seeing a woman doctor. However, my daughter suffered with severe cramps, and I learned the following tip from my partner, Promise Ahlstrom, MD.
If your daughter has bad cramps, she should take 400 to 600 mg of ibuprofen as soon as her period starts. Then, she should repeat the dose every 4 hours for the first 24 hours of her period. The goal here is to “stay ahead of the pain.” If a girl takes the first does at 8am, she may be tempted to skip the noon dose if the cramps have subsided. This is a no-no. By missing a dose, the physiology that causes menstrual cramps will worsen. By the second day of her period, she can usually drop the dose to every 6 hours, but she should still take the medicine on schedule. By the third day of her period, she can take the ibuprofen as needed.
Three things can interfere with staying on course with this regimen. First, if a girl is at school, she may need to go to the nurse to get her medication. If the school has a strict policy about leaving class, a note from the doctor can help. Second, some girls forget to take their medicine. This can be overcome by putting reminders in her cell phone or getting a friendly text from mom at the right time. Third, her period may start right before bedtime. In this situation, I would consider waking her up for a dose of ibuprofen unless doing so would disturb her sleep and cause other problems the following day.
If this regimen doesn’t help, your daughter should see her pediatrician or a gynecologist to discuss other options.
In my experience, 90% of girls are not excited when puberty starts. And it’s not just their impending period that’s on their mind. Most girls are happy with the body they have and see no reason for it to change. This uncertainty happens because the physical changes of puberty precede the psychological ones. When I discuss this with girls at their 10- or 11-year-old checkups, my goal is twofold. First, I want them to know that they are not alone in their feelings about puberty. Second, I want parents to know that girls may be reluctant to talk about puberty even though moms want to provide them with the benefit of their experience. However, I encourage moms to always keep their “radar on.” If a girl brings up pubertal issues, moms should drop what they’re doing and be open for a discussion.
I also share a story about what happened in my own home when my daughter, now 21, turned eleven. My wife and I bought Molly a copy of the American Girl book, The Care and Keeping Of You, which is a terrific book for girls entering this stage of their lives. Molly looked at the book and literally threw it across the room. We told her that was okay, but added that her mom would be available to discuss anything in the book if Molly wanted to. Over the next six months, we found her occasionally reading the book at night before bed.
My final comment on this subject at checkups is to remind girls that puberty takes years to finish, and I guarantee that they will be happy with their grownup bodies once the process is over.
Parents often have questions about the things they see in their baby’s mouths. Here are the most common findings you may notice.
- Epstein’s Pearls. These are white spots on the roof of a baby’s mouth. They are usually the size of a sesame seeds. They disappear in a month or two.
- Bahn’s Nodules. These are white spots on the top or sides of a baby’s gums. They are bigger than Epstein’s Pearls, and parents sometimes mistake them for teeth. They disappear by 6 months.
- White or irregular gums. Some babies have smooth gums. Others have tiny ridges. The sides of a baby’s gums sometimes look white instead of pink. These are all normal findings.
- White coating on the tongue. Most parents are aware that newborns can get a yeast infection called thrush. However, if all you see is a thin, white coating on your baby’s tongue, it’s most likely from breast milk or formula. With thrush, you usually see cheesy-looking material on the inside of the cheeks and lips and on the roof of the baby’s mouth.
- Tongue-tie. This is hard for parents to see, but most have heard about it. The bottom of the tongue attaches to the floor of the mouth with a thin band of tissue called the lingual frenulum. In some cases, the frenulum is tight, thick or attaches near the tip of the tongue. If this happens, it may be harder for your baby to nurse properly. Doctors and nurses routinely check for this at newborn visits. In some cases, the baby will be referred to an oral surgeon or an ENT doctor to “clip” the frenulum.
In my last blog, I mentioned that it takes 6 months for testicles to descend from the abdomen into the scrotum. If this process doesn’t occur properly, a baby will be born with an undescended testicle. (If the testicle can be felt in the inguinal canal, it’s referred to as a partially undescended testicle.) In many cases, an undescended testicle will drop to its normal position by 2 to 3 months of life. If this fails to occur, the baby will be referred to a pediatric urologist.
Prior to puberty, a boy’s testicle is roughly the size and shape of a peanut. This fact, combined with an active scrotal reflex, often pulls the testicle into the lower part of the inguinal canal. We call this a retractile testicle. It’s not the same as a partially undescended testicle. In pre-adolescents, testicles commonly “hide” when boys giggle during the genital exam.
The way doctors differentiate between a partially undescended testicle and a retractile testicle is to see what happens when the boy squats. During a squat, a retractile testicle will drop down so it can be easily pulled into the scrotum; a partially undescended testicle will not. If there is any question about this, your child will be referred to a pediatric urologist.
If your child can’t get through the genital exam because he’s ticklish, there is a way parents can identify a retractile testicle without seeing a urologist. Have your child sit in a warm bath for about 5 minutes. Because the testicles are meant to be cooler than the body, retractile testicles will almost always drop down into the scrotum, which itself gets “baggy” in warm water. If you see or feel the testicles in the lower scrotum, you don’t need an appointment with a urologist.