Category Archives: Health tips

Tanning turmoil: Why getting ‘bronzed’ is hazardous to your teen’s health

For teens, one visit to a tanning bed increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

A guest post by Gigi Chawla, MD

Every spring, many of us weary from a long winter head south to warmer climes; teens across the country attend prom with their sweethearts. And what do kids tend to do before events like these?

Hit the tanning salon.

Looking “pasty white” in a swimsuit or a new dress just won’t do, right? Think again.

Here’s a brief warning to help dispel the myth of “getting a base tan” before these events. Or ever.

Currently, 35 percent of 17-year-old girls in the U.S. are using tanning beds and 55 percent of college-aged kids have used one at least once.

In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported earlier this year that, “a third of white 11th-grade Minnesota girls have tanned indoors in the past year, according to a state survey … and more than half of them used sun beds, sunlamps or tanning booths at least 10 times in a recent 12-month period.”

What isn’t immediately clear to our kids is that during a tanning-bed session they may receive up to 12 times the ultraviolet (UV) exposure as they receive being outside in the natural sunlight. This UV radiation exposure from tanning beds is dangerous and linked to three types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Here’s the potential damage that one tanning-bed session alone can cause a teen:

  • The risk of developing melanoma increases by 20 percent
  • The risk of developing basal cell carcinoma increases by 29 percent
  • The risk of squamous cell carcinoma increases by 67 percent

For people using a tanning bed under the age of 35, the lifetime risk of developing skin cancer of any type increases by 74 percent.

Specifically, it increases the lifetime risk of:

  • melanoma by 75 percent
  • basal cell carcinoma by 150 percent, and
  • squamous cell carcinoma by a whopping 250 percent

Moreover, skin cancer now is the leading form of cancer in 25- to 29-year-olds.

Another startling fact: More skin cancer cases arise from tanning-bed use than lung cancer cases do from smoking; yet, in our culture, bronzed skin is seen as a form of beauty.

Some advice to parents: Remember to reinforce to your teens that they are beautiful or handsome no matter the shade of their skin. What’s important is what’s inside. I like to think that we live in an era in which we can look past skin color, where we are not judged by skin color and we should not see beauty based on skin color.

It’s time to remind your kids to “go with your own natural glow.”

Gigi Chawla, MD, is a pediatrician, hospitalist and the Senior Medical Director of Primary Care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Her areas of interest are the care of complex special needs patients, premature infants, ventilator dependent children and care of hospitalized patients.

Sources: The Skin Cancer Foundation, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

The importance of play – for kids and adults

Hands-on play, where a child uses his or her imagination and ideas to self-discover, creates the best learning environment. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Jeri Kayser

When people try and remember the name of my profession, child life specialist, they often shorten it to “play lady.” That used to bug me when I was a young professional and ready to solve all of the world’s problems, but now I recognize the compliment. We breathe, drink and eat to stay alive – we play to bring forth a reason for all of that effort. Play is how we learn about our world, practice that knowledge and foster our sense of well-being and personal joy; it’s an honor to promote play in the world of health care, but it’s not without its challenges.

One current challenge is tied to the hot topic in popular culture about the value of gaming devices. Is playing a game on a smartphone when you’re 2 years old considered quality play? Short answer: No. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids 2 and younger and only one to two hours a day for older children. The core aspect of the definition of “play” is that it’s self-directive. You’re deciding what you’re going to do with whatever you’re interacting with. One of the problems with electronic games is that game designers have done most of that for you.

Your toddler recognizes the status that phone holds, and it works for a bit to keep a child distracted from the fact that he or she is in the hospital or in a long checkout line at the grocery store.

So what can we use to help guide our decisions to promote healthy play? A great way to look at this is similar to how we all work to promote healthy choices for our diet. Potato chips are fine for an occasional treat, but we wouldn’t want to eat them all the time. If we did, we’d feel awful. Video games kind of are the junk food of play. The more the play requires from the child, the better the value and healthier the choice.

I notice this in the hospital when I come into a room to meet with a family about what to expect with surgery. People often are busy with an electronic device, but as soon as we start to talk, the interest is there to engage and the devices get turned off. When I bring a toy or some arts and crafts activities, kids always gravitate towards that; they want what they need.

I used to work in a summer daycare program for school-aged kids. We would spend the morning on a field trip and the afternoon at a beach. The director wanted us to provide structured activities for the kids in the afternoon, but we quickly learned that the combination of water, sand and friends led to a more-creative, imaginative and enriched play than anything with which we could have come up. Hands-on play, where a child uses his or her imagination and ideas to self-discover, creates the best learning environment.

I heard an interesting story on public radio on my long commute home. At the electronic show in Austin, Texas, at the South by Southwest conference, the big news at the conference was the “Maker Movement,” stressing the importance of hands-on play to promote understanding of how our world works. They interviewed an inventor, Ayah Bdeir, who created a toy of electronic bits that fit together with magnets, creating circuits. With this process, you can make all kinds of fun things. He explained the value of this explorative play by stating, “We need to remember that we are all makers and touching things with our hands is powerful and inspiring.”

In another century, another scientist noted the same thing. Albert Einstein declared, “Play is the highest form of research.”

Self-directed play offers the healthiest value for our play “diet,” and this extends throughout our lives. We all need to play. As I wrote this, I overheard a conversation between two anesthesiologists talking about how they used play to help them cope with life stressors. One likes his guitar, while the other enjoys making remote-control helicopters.

This important fact, one of the highest forms of self-care, needs to be part of the planning of how we provide health care. Play is important for all age groups, not just those adorable preschoolers. We need to incorporate this in everything we do, for teens, parents and staff.

Late Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said it best: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Jeri Kayser is a child life specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Poisoning can be prevented

With one of the busiest pediatric emergency medicine programs in the nation and more than 90,000 emergency department visits annually for a variety of reasons, you can trust we’ve treated just about everything. We love kids here at Children’s, but we’d rather see them safe at home.

In recognition of Poison Prevention Week, we’ve gathered tips from our experts. Share these tips with your kids and print them to share at their schools or with your friends. Together, we can make safe simple.

Keep all potential poisons up high and out of the reach of children — in a locked storage container. Set up safe storage areas for medications, household cleaners, and chemicals like antifreeze. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

What is Poison Prevention Week?

National Poison Prevention Week was established by Congress in 1961 for annual, national recognition. The goal of the week is to educate the public about poisoning risks and what to do to prevent poisonings.

What you should know

Did you know that injuries are a leading cause of death in children? Each year 5,000 children die and another 6 million are hurt as a result of unintentional injuries. One in 4 children is hurt seriously enough to need medical attention. Most childhood injuries occur at home and many of these injuries, including poisoning, could be prevented.

Facts about poisoning

  • More than 1 million accidental poisonings per year occur in children younger than 6 years old.
  • Approximately 1 in 10 poisonings involves cleaning products.
  • Approximately 1 in 10 poisonings involves indoor and outdoor plants.
  • Approximately 1 in 20 poisonings are caused by cosmetic and personal-care products.

Tips to prevent poisoning

  • Review the poison prevention home checklist from the Minnesota Regional Poison Center.
  • Keep all potential poisons up high and out of the reach of children — preferably in a locked storage container. Set up safe storage areas for medications, household cleaners, and chemicals like antifreeze.
  • Keep medications and vitamins out of the reach of children. Never call medicine “candy.”
  • Keep foods and household products separated.
  • Keep products in original containers. Do not use food storage containers to store poisonous substances (i.e. plant food in a drink bottle).
  • Destroy old medications.
  • Identify all household plants to determine if poisonous.
  • Post the Poison Center phone number, 1 (800) 222-1222, near each phone in the home.

What do you do if you suspect someone has been poisoned?

  • Swallowed poison: Remove anything remaining in the mouth. If a person is able to swallow, give about 2 ounces of water to drink.
  • Poison in the eye: Gently flush the eye for 10 minutes using medium-warm water.
  • Poison on the skin: Remove any contaminated clothing and rinse skin with large amounts of water for 10 minutes.
  • Inhaled poison: Get fresh air as soon as possible.
  • Call the Poison Center, 1 (800) 222-1222, immediately.
CROSSWORD PUZZLE: Poison Search

Sleep health in children

Teaching kids to fall asleep on their own at the beginning of the night without your presence is an important skill for them to learn. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Karen Johnson, RN, CNP

Getting enough sleep is essential for your child’s growth and health. Studies show that many children don’t get enough sleep each night. This can result in behavioral problems, mood swings and poor school performance. A lack of sleep also can cause problems with memory, concentration and problem solving.

Occasional bouts of sleeplessness or restless nights are normal for kids as their bodies and brains develop, and the tips below can help you ensure your kids are getting enough rest.

But sometimes your child may not be getting enough sleep due to a sleep disorder. One of the most common sleep disorders in children is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Signs of OSA in children are loud snoring, restless sleep, gasping and hyperactivity when awake. Risk factors for having OSA in children are having enlarged tonsils or adenoids, being overweight or certain other genetic or health disorders. Speak with your child’s health care provider if you think that your child might have OSA.

Here are some tips for helping your kids get a good night’s sleep:

Create a soothing and regular routine for sleep: A routine can help your child get ready for bed much easier. Studies show that children who have a bedtime routine wake up fewer times during the night. The bedtime routine should be the same every night, such as reading one book and singing one song, not lasting more than 15 to 20 minutes.

Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake time: Keeping the wake time and bedtime the same, even on weekends and vacations, is important to help maintain circadian rhythm.

Be conscious of light and darkness: Both are very influential in sleep-wake cycles. Bright light in the morning is influential in setting the circadian rhythm and helping children wake easier. Opening the curtains in the morning to let in the sunlight is the most powerful source of light; artificial light can be helpful as well. Dim the lights in the evening prior to the bedtime routine to cue your child’s internal clock that it’s time for sleep.

Keep electronics out of the bedroom: The light from televisions, computer screens, video games and mobile devices like cellphones can prevent your child from sleeping. It’s best to turn off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime, and in their place, do a calming activity such as reading or coloring.

Naps are important: Younger children need regular and predictable naps during the day. When your child is napping only once a day, don’t let him or her nap late into the afternoon, as this will interfere with the child’s ability to fall asleep at the regular bedtime.

Teach your child how to self-soothe: At an early age, put your child into his or her crib or bed when he or she is drowsy but still awake. Teaching kids to fall asleep on their own at the beginning of the night without your presence is an important skill for them to learn. Children naturally wake two to six times a night, and if they do not know how to self-soothe, they will cry to alert you that they are awake. Not only does that disrupt their sleep, but yours as well.

No caffeine allowed: Caffeine is not recommended for kids, but if you allow your child any, make sure it is before 3 p.m., as it can delay the onset of sleep at bedtime.

Consistency is key to success: Be patient and persistent, as the investment is well worth it when your child is sleeping better.

Make sleep a priority for your child and family: Teach your child about the importance of sleep by being a good role model in your own sleep habits.

Karen Johnson, RN, PNP, is a nurse in the Children’s Sleep Center at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Her interest in pediatric sleep medicine stems from her passion to assist children in improving their sleep. She views sleep as a necessary function so that children can be alert, focus in school, reach their learning potential and have energy to play and be kids.

The Children’s Sleep Center is one of the only pediatric-centered programs in the region and one of only a handful that is nationally accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. As part of that, we’re sharing some concussion safety tips.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head or body. Symptoms can show up right after the injury or may not be noticed until hours or days later.

Signs and symptoms to watch for:

  • Headache or dizziness
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Focus or concentration problems
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Balance or coordination problems
  • Disorientation or mental confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Slowed thinking or speech
  • Blank or vacant look
  • Loss of consciousness
What to do if your child displays concussion symptoms:
  • Immediately remove your child from activity
  • Seek medical attention
  • Tell your child’s coach or teacher
Children’s Concussion Clinic

651-220-5230
8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

Children’s Specialty Center (ground floor)
2530 Chicago Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Garden View (third floor)
347 N. Smith Ave., Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55102

Facts on frostbite


Limit the amount of time spent outdoors during cold temperatures. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Erin Fritz, CNP

Minnesota winters offer many outdoor activities. While we can appreciate the fun of sledding, the thrill of skiing or the labor-intensive task of shoveling, these activities aren’t without risk. Specifically, prolonged exposure to the cold puts our skin at risk for frostbite, or — a lesser version — frostnip.

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is the damage to a body part caused by cold. While many instances are mild, frostbite can be quite severe. Typically the cold exposure occurs over minutes or hours, but frostbite can be instantaneous if exposed to cold metal. Frostbite is most common on the ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes.

What should I watch for?

It’s important to recognize the signs of frostbite as quickly as possible. Skin will feel cold, and may even be numb or tingling; it may have a gray or white appearance. Due to the numbness, the affected body part may feel clumsy or be difficult to move. Slightly worse symptoms may include blisters. Severe frostbite will have areas of black skin.

What to do if I am concerned?

Once symptoms of frostbite or frostnip are identified, the affected area needs to be rapidly re-warmed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the water used to re-warm the skin should be warm, but not hot. Avoid rubbing the area as this could make the pain and tissue damage worse. Pain is commonly a factor with frostbite, and can be managed with over-the-counter pain medications or by health care professionals.

How can frostbite be prevented?

Most importantly, frostbite easily can be prevented. Limit the amount of time spent outdoors during cold temperatures. Dress in layers, and cover all areas of uncovered skin with a hat, mittens, face mask and goggles. Warm boots are important. And finally, stay dry. If clothing does get wet, seek shelter and remove wet clothes immediately.

Spring soon will come, bringing warmer temperatures. Until then, dress warmly, stay dry and prevent frostbite.

Preparing yourself for your child’s surgery

Visiting the hospital ahead of time gives everyone a chance to learn more about what to expect and what’s helpful to do ahead of time or bring with you when you come to the hospital. (2013 file / Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota)

By Jeri Kayser
Child Life Specialist

When a child needs surgery, the focus of preparation usually is with the child.

That makes sense.

We want our kids to understand what’s about to happen so they aren’t overwhelmed or traumatized by the event. They’re kids, after all, and we adults have to deal with it, right? Or, perhaps, wrong.

After 30 years as a Child Life specialist, 20 of those in surgery, I have observed that the first person to be well-prepared should be the parent. Children respond most directly to how their parents are reacting emotionally to the event to gauge their own response.

Imagine you are 3 years old and about to get your tonsils out. This is scary because it’s hard to understand what’s about to happen and frustrating you can’t control it. Age-appropriate information and a supportive staff are helpful, but if you notice your mom or dad is anxious, nothing else matters. You got the message: You should be anxious, too, especially if your parents are trying to suppress their emotions – that is even scarier to a child. You can tell that they are upset, but you don’t know why, so you imagine the worst. If you’re a teenager, you might pick up on the message that we don’t talk about this and it will upset your mom if you bring it up to her. It’s hard to deal with the unspoken stress of your family as well as your own fears and concerns.

When I’ve observed kids coping successfully with the challenges of a health care experience, I have noticed that their families have prepared themselves with some or all of the following techniques:

Seek information

Find out what is happening and why. What are the expected outcomes?  What types of things can you as a family plan on doing to foster your child’s healing?

Attend a pre-admission tour

On our hospital’s website there is helpful information about surgery and how to sign up for a tour. Visiting the hospital ahead of time gives everyone a chance to learn more about what to expect and what’s helpful to do ahead of time or bring with you when you come to the hospital.

Make a list

Write down a list of questions to bring to meetings with health care providers. I remember one family kept an ongoing list in their kitchen for anyone to write down questions, and they all contributed, even the siblings. Everyone had a say, and the questions helped everyone feel a part of the event. Knowledge helps you be in control and having specific tasks you can do to support your child in his or her recovery provides focus and direction.

Be honest with your emotions

As a parent, our job is to love and protect our kids and guide them towards being an independent adult. It can be overwhelming to have to make decisions for your child that includes any potential discomfort since we so desperately want to keep him or her safe from life’s struggles, but learning to deal with life’s struggles is what helps kids learn to be independent. We also carry with us our own memories and experiences with health care that may help or cloud our emotional response to our child’s experience. It helps to pay attention to where your emotions about surgery differ from your child’s. You each get to own your own perspective.

Kids do best when we are honest with them. When you label your emotions and show your child what you’re doing to help yourself, your child gets to experience some phenomenal role modeling on how to cope with challenging situations.

“I am sad that your tonsils need to come out, but I am glad that the doctors can fix this and soon you will be able to breathe better at night when you’re sleeping,” a parent can say. “Let’s think of some fun things to do while you are healing!”

Take care of yourself

You know yourself best. Helping your child through the experience of surgery can be exhausting. Think about what will help you be in your best place. Whom can you call on for support? Even small favors like having someone else pick up your other kids from school can be a great stress reducer.

Plan on something nice you can do for yourself while waiting for your child’s surgery to be done or when you get home. This also can help you and your child focus forward and be reminded of the time-limiting nature of the experience. It won’t last forever, and soon you’ll be looking back on this adventure.

Cut yourself some slack. There is no perfect person, so there can be no perfect parent. Your effort is what your child will notice and appreciate.

We grow as individuals and we grow as a family when we figure out what works best for us to deal with life’s challenges. This knowledge is precious and affirming and gives us all the more strength to deal with the next adventure.

Jeri Kayser is a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Mindfulness for stress relief

By Leslie Partin

Whether you’re a busy, working parent or a teen trying to balance a full social calendar and school, life can be stressful at times. Mindfulness, otherwise known as mindful meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR), is a tool any one of us can use as we navigate through the demands of our days.

The basic tenet of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment. So much of the time we’re thinking ahead to the next task or mulling over something that happened in the past. For example, have you ever driven past the exit you intended to take, only to realize you missed it because you were thinking of something else? When we are caught up in our thoughts, we miss what is happening around us like that missed freeway exit.

Our minds are powerful, and we can harness that power to help us manage difficult experiences and distressing (or afflictive) emotions. When we are in the midst of a strong emotion or physical sensation like anger, sadness, disappointment or physical pain, it can feel like things will never get better. But if we’re able to step back and observe our distress, we may notice that it changes, ebbs and flows. Noticing and recognizing that the intensity varies, whether it’s an emotion or physical sensation, offers hope and reassurance that it won’t always be so hard. And when we focus on what we’re experiencing right now, instead of what’s going to happen — “I don’t want to have a headache at the dance,” “I don’t want to be stressed out at my child’s game,” etc. — then we don’t add the additional suffering of anticipation or worry. We suffer when we focus too much attention on what may happen in the future.

Mindfulness doesn’t mean trying not to think or making one’s mind blank. Instead, mindfulness teaches us to watch our thoughts, observe them while not attaching to them. Many teachers suggest visualizing thoughts as leaves floating down a stream or as clouds drifting by in the sky. Practitioners of meditation say that having a regular “practice” — a time set aside to practice meditation — allows us to develop our capability to be mindful in times of distress. It’s like building our mental muscles in the same way we build physical muscles by lifting weights or working out. Committing to a meditation or mindfulness practice helps us develop those muscles so we have the ability to use them when we need them most.

Neuroscience studies show us that the brain develops neuro-pathways as a result of our thinking habits and patterns. Similar to the way a trail through the woods is developed by animals and people following the same path over and over, our neuro-pathways, or thought habits, are made as we repeatedly take the same path of worry, fear, joy, happiness, etc. Mindfulness is one technique we can use to help form new neuro-pathways or mental habits. When we practice mindfulness we increase awareness of all of our thoughts and emotions, the positive as well as the afflictive ones. We then can choose which thoughts, emotions and sensations we want to focus on and nurture, and of which ones we want to let go. Remembering that we have this choice can help us cope when we hit stressful times.

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, here are few links that can help you and your family get started (the first six links are centers that are located in the Twin Cities):

Children’s Integrative Medicine Program has medical providers that work with children to teach relaxation techniques that can include the use of mindfulness. These strategies are very helpful for chronic conditions such headaches and abdominal pain or problems with sleep and anxiety.


 [1] Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs in Massachusetts and has several books and CDs, which provide a good starting point. “Everyday Blessings” is his book on mindful parenting, with Myla Kabat-Zinn.

Leslie Partin is a social worker at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Ensuring kids get enough exercise in every season

By Samara Postuma

We all know that kids need exercise, but how much exercise should kids be getting and how do we ensure they are getting enough when those too cold (or too hot) to play outside days come around? Dr. Julie Boman, a pediatrician here at Children’s, has some tips and ideas to share on making sure kids are getting the full 60 minutes a day of the exercise they need.

It’s important to note that while all kids need 60 minutes of exercise, the way that looks for your preschooler and the way that looks for your middle-schooler might be different.

“Younger kids need frequent bursts of activity versus an hour of activity straight, where an older child can get their exercise by being active for an hour,” said Dr. Boman.

So what about those days – those miserably, cold days – where it’s deemed unsafe for kids to play outside? Or, as we dream of warmer days, those hot, summer days where the heat index is so high, it’s dangerously hot for kids to be outside?

Well, according to Dr. Boman, it’s time to get creative.

Some of the more obvious options to get your kids active would be indoor parks, community centers, YMCAs, parks and recreation centers. Most of which will offer special extended hours on the days that outside play might be limited.

“Younger kids just need a space to run,” Dr. Boman mentioned, noting that this is when an unfinished basement can come in handy.

You don’t have to get too crazy to get kids active though – games like hide and seek, building forts and even cleaning the house can get kids active and exercising.

The only time you’ll hear Dr. Boman suggest video games is when it comes to moving your body versus your thumbs and there are plenty of games out there that do just that.

“Dancing games on the Wii are a good workout even for adults,” she said.

Another more creative way to get kids active is by looking for active apps or videos such as the IronKids App which was developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and is available for iPhone or iPad for $3.99. The app has several different workouts for both cardio and core and kids can follow the app for five minute bursts of circuit training and weight lifting using household items.

Don’t have a smart phone or tablet? No problem. A simple YouTube search will bring you thousands of work out videos for both kids and adults.

“It’s all about exploring ways to keep kids interested,” Dr. Boman said.

What are your tried and true ways to keep your kids active and exercising all year round?

Bonus: This morning, the TODAY Show ran a story about the America’s Healthiest Cities. The Zumba class shown in the segment was part of Vida Sana, a partnership between Children’s and HealthPartners working to address obesity among Latino children and families in Minneapolis. Vida Sana is the brainchild of Dr. Boman and her colleagues here at Children’s.

The Star Tribune profiled Vida Sana last August.

For more information about Vida Sana, you can contact Dr. Julie Boman at julie.boman@childrensmn.org. For more information about Children’s childhood obesity efforts, contact Anna Youngerman at anna.youngerman@childrensmn.org.

Samara Postuma is a freelance writer. Her five kids range in age from 7 months to almost 15. When she is not busy driving kids to school and activities, taking care of baby or teaching her second grader, she writes and works in social media. She blogs at http://simplicityinthesuburbs.com. She can also be found on Twitter.

Influenza is now widespread in Minnesota. Here’s what you need to know.

By Patsy Stinchfield, MS, CPNP

Patsy is a pediatric nurse practitioner in infectious disease and the director of infection prevention and The Children’s Immunization Project at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Update

Influenza is now “widespread” in 35 states, including Minnesota.

There is still time to get vaccinated if you and your family have not yet done so.

To learn more about how Children’s is helping prevent the spread of influenza in the community, click on over to www.childrensMN.org/flu.

This post originally appeared on the Mighty Blog on Jan. 2.

As of Jan. 2, 2014, the Minnesota Department of Health has declared influenza “widespread” across the state, the highest designation level. Over the past two weeks, influenza cases at Children’s have more than doubled, however they still remain below where they were at this time last year. Now that influenza has arrived, it’s likely that it will remain in full swing in Minnesota for the next two months.

So what can you do? The No. 1 way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. And it’s not too late. Anyone 6 months of age and older who has not received their flu vaccine should do so now. Most clinics and pharmacies are still vaccinating and have a good supply of vaccine. The most common influenza strain we’re seeing is the H1N1 strain which is contained in this year’s vaccine. In addition to getting the vaccine, we also recommend frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth prior to washing your hands to help prevent the spread of illness.

If the flu has already reached your house, here are few helpful tips for caring for your child while they’re ill.

What’s the difference between the cold and the flu and how can I tell?

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether a child has a cold or the flu because she may cough, have a runny nose, sore throat and fatigue with both. However with the flu, a child tends to have a high fever which comes on more suddenly and may include severe fatigue and body aches. Colds tend to come on more gradually, and many kids may feel well enough to keep playing and going to school with a cold. Clinics may use a rapid nose swab test to determine if someone has influenza.

What should I do if I suspect influenza?

Most cases of influenza are mild and can be managed at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and fever-reducing medicines. Tender-loving care is good medicine, too. Most over-the-counter “cough and cold” medicines do not help a sick child get better faster and won’t have much effect on influenza. Sometimes, the flu can make a child very ill and a visit to the clinic or emergency room is necessary.

When should I take my child to the emergency department?

Take your child to be checked if they have difficulty breathing (fast, grunt-sounding, noisy breathing or small breaths), if their color looks bad (pale or bluish), if they aren’t drinking fluids often or urinating at least once every eight hours, or if they just aren’t themselves and you’re worried. Signs of dehydration are dry lips, sunken eyes, sleepiness or crankiness. Children who seem like they’re getting better and then suddenly get worse should be taken to the Emergency Department immediately. This could mean they have another infection such as pneumonia in addition to the flu.

What are the best ways to get my child’s fever down when she has the flu?

Fever is one of the tools our immune system uses to kill germs. However, children with high fever can feel quite miserable, get crabby, have trouble waking up and may drink less fluids causing dehydration. If you can’t keep the fever down with a fever-reducing medicine such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, then the child should be taken to the clinic or emergency department.

Is there anything else I can do to help make my child more comfortable?

You can keep your child home from day care, school, sports or other activities and have them rest early in their illness until they show signs of getting back to “their normal.” If your child doesn’t want to eat regular meals, don’t insist, but do make sure they drink small amounts of fluids every hour to prevent dehydration.

Is there anything I can do to help my child recover more quickly?

There is an anti-viral medicine called Tamiflu that can be given to children as young as 2 weeks of age. This is used if the child is hospitalized with moderate or severe influenza or if the child is outpatient but at higher risk for complications from influenza. These would be children with immune system problems or neurological, pulmonary, or metabolic underlying conditions. Tamiflu works best if given in the first two days of illness which can cut the severity and number of days of illness in half.

How long will my child be contagious?

Influenza is most contagious the day before symptoms present through about day four of illness. Your child should stay home from school during this time. After viral illnesses, kids can have lingering muscle or body aches and really do need time to rest and recover before rushing back to school. They can often pick up other viruses easily and may have a lingering cough as their airway heals. Depending on the severity of the flu, this may be a few days to a few weeks. Most kids recover within a week. Remember that many schools require that your child be fever-free (without the help of medicines) for one to two days before returning to school or day care.