Category Archives: Health tips

How to prevent and treat bug bites and stings

By Erin Dobie, CNP

Minnesota summers bring warm weather and opportunities for our kids to go outside exploring and playing in nature. Pesky insects often irritate or interrupt summer fun. Learn how to prevent insect bites, treat bites when they do occur, remove ticks and how to know when you should seek medical attention for your child.

How to treat bites

Insect bites and bee stings react because of venom injected into the skin. The severity of reaction depends on your child’s sensitivity to the venom. Most reactions are mild, causing redness, local swelling and irritation or itching. These usually will go away in two to three days. Calamine lotion or any anti-itch gel or cream may help soothe the itching.

Bee stings cause immediate pain and a red bump, but usually the discomfort lessens within 15 minutes. More than 10 bee stings at once (extremely rare) may cause a more-severe reaction with vomiting, diarrhea and headache. Allergic reactions to bee stings can be severe and quickly get worse. These reactions include difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, or confusion. Children who have a severe reaction need immediate medical attention, and you should call 911. If the child has a known bee allergy and an Epi-pen is available, the Epi-pen should be administered in addition to calling 911. If a stinger is present, try to rub it off with something flat such as the edge of a credit card. Do not try to squeeze the stinger out or try to dig it out. If it does not come out easily, soak the area in water and leave it alone to come out on its own.

Tick bites don’t often cause much of a local reaction. They’re primarily concerning because they can transmit infectious diseases. Ticks are prevalent in Minnesota. They’re generally found on the ground in wooded or heavily bushy areas. Ticks can’t jump or fly. Generally they climb grass and climb onto someone to attach as we brush up against them. Ticks are most active during the spring and summer months.

There are a few different infectious diseases that can be transmitted by ticks, but the most common one found in the Minnesota-Wisconsin area is Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). To infect a person, a tick typically must be attached to the skin for at least 36 hours. The incubation period, the time from infection to being symptomatic, is anytime between three and 30 days.

Lyme disease can present in many different stages. Early localized stage often includes a red ring-like rash (or may resemble a “bull’s eye” target) that slowly expands. Other symptoms include headache, fever, joint or muscle aches and overall not feeling well or excessively tired. If your child develops these symptoms within a few days to weeks after tick exposure you should seek medical attention to evaluate for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is evaluated by medical history, physical examination and sometimes a blood test. It may take the body several weeks to develop antibodies and the blood test may not show up positive early in the disease. Most cases of Lyme disease are easily and successfully treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.

How to prevent a bite

Prevention is the key to avoiding insect bites. I recommend insect repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET. The higher concentration of DEET does not indicate better repellent; it just means that the repellent will last longer. Most repellents can be used on infants and children older than 2 months. Other effective repellents contain permethrin, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535. Permethrin-treated clothing is an option if the child will be camping or on wooded hikes. Finally, showering or bathing soon after exposure to tick areas is important to check for and remove ticks. Parents should pay close attention and check children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair on their scalp. Dogs should be treated for ticks, but also checked as the ticks can ride into the home on the dogs then attach to a person later.

How to remove a tick

If you find a tick attached to your child’s skin, there is no need to panic.

  1. Use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this often can cause the tick’s mouth to break off and remain in the skin. If the mouth breaks off: try to remove it. If it cannot be removed easily, don’t dig it out; just wash and allow it to fall out on its own.
  3. After removing the tick, clean the skin with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

Animals are great family members, except when they’re not

Teach kids to respect your animal’s space. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

Even before the pitter-patter of toddler feet, our house was plenty busy. My wife and I jokingly referred to our dog, Sprocket, and cat, Harvey, as training for parenthood. By the time our daughter, Quinnlyn, came around, we already had learned to keep valuables out of reach and close the doors to the rooms where we didn’t want roaming paws. And we quickly learned the value of eating our meals after distracting the animals to avoid begging eyes.

In addition to providing safety challenges, animals have an uncanny way of creating rules for your house, with or without your approval. Regardless of your expectations of them, they almost always get their way. (Those with toddlers will recognize the similarity here.) In our case, for example, we insisted that Sprocket not be allowed on the furniture – and he most definitely would not be allowed to sleep in our bed. He had different plans, though, and now I’m regularly curled up in the only free corner of our king-sized bed and rarely leave the house without fur-covered pants.

After we introduced the pets to Quinnlyn, Harvey disappeared for what seemed like the better part of a year while Sprocket was quite concerned about losing out on time with us. What remained to be seen was how these interspecies siblings would get along once Quinn became more mobile. We had two animals who thought they owned the house and a new queen who demanded nearly all of our attention. Naturally, there was some ruffled fur.

Recently, Sprocket was lying comfortably on the couch while I was typing away in the recliner near him. Quinn recognized the quiet, relaxing vibe and felt it needed a little chaos. She grabbed her step stool, crawled up on the couch and tried to climb up on Sprocket’s back, hoping to get a free doggie ride. Sprocket alerted me with the warning signs – he first tried to move away then let out a little growl before licking Quinn’s face. Thankfully, I was able to intervene before he got increasingly upset, but his behavior understandably is confusing to Quinn, so she continued to try to climb aboard.

Therein lays the challenge: No matter how well trained, animals are instinctual beings that are territorial, protective and usually inflexible on changing the rules they created. Young children are curious beings who discover their world by poking, prodding, throwing, climbing and chasing. Pairing children and pets can be simultaneously developmentally rewarding and potentially dangerous.

Here are some tips to help keep your kids safe around dogs:

Household pets

  • Dogs typically don’t like hugs and kisses, particularly when it’s not on their own terms. Teach kids to respect your animal’s space.
  • Don’t stare at a dog in close proximity to its face as this can be interpreted as an act of aggression.
  • Dogs that are tied up, cooped in or curled up (sleeping or relaxing) may be more agitated if approached – they either want to get out or be left alone.
  • Know that dogs don’t only attack when they’re angry (growling, barking, hair standing up); they can attack because they’re scared; a dog with its mouth closed, eyes wide and ears forward may indicate that it’s scared or worried.
  • Recognize these behaviors in your family dog to know it’s time to stop playing and give your pet some space:
    • Avoidance – hiding behind something or someone or turning its head away
    • Submission – rolling on its back, licking, or leaving the room; even though the dog is giving up now, it may not some day
    • Body language – tail between legs or low with only the end wagging, ears in a non-neutral position, rapid panting, licking its chops, or shaking out its fur
    • Acting out – tearing up or destroying personal possessions such as toys or other items your family uses frequently, or urinating or defecating in the house; these may be signs that your dog should be seen by a behavioral professional – don’t delay!

Pets outside of your family (tips courtesy of Children’s Hospital of Michigan)

  • Always ask an adult’s permission before approaching or petting a dog. Start by letting the dog sniff you, then gently pet under its chin or on top of its head, but never its tail, back or legs.
    • Never run or scream if a dog comes up to you
    • Never try to ride a bike away from a dog; they can run faster than you can bike
    • Always be calm around dogs and don’t look them in the eye; they may see this as an act of aggression
    • Stand still like a tree or rock and let the dog sniff you. If a dog starts biting, put whatever you have (backpack, stick, toy, etc.) in its mouth.
      • Avoid dogs that are eating, playing with toys, tied up in a yard, or behind a fence; also avoid dogs who look ill or angry
      • Never tease a dog by throwing things at it, barking at it, etc.

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

12 tips to help keep kids safe this summer

Wear a helmet every time you ride a bike, skateboard, scooter or use in-line skates.

Children’s has one of the busiest pediatric emergency programs in the country, with about 90,000 visits each year. We love kids here at Children’s, but we’d rather see them safe at home. With warm weather upon us, we compiled a list of basic tips, with help from our injury prevention experts, to keep kids safe all summer. Together, we can make safe simple.

For more safety tips, read about Making Safe Simple.

Sun and heat

1. On hot days, make sure kids drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

2. Make sure kids are covered. Apply 1 ounce of sunscreen to the entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours, or immediately after sweating heavily.

3. When heat and humidity are high, reduce the level of intensity of activities.

Water

4. Kids should wear life jackets at all times when they’re on boats or near bodies of water.

5. Never leave kids alone in or near a pool or open water. In open water, kids should swim with a buddy.

subscribe_blogFireworks

6. Don’t allow kids younger than the age of 12 to use sparklers without close adult supervision. Don’t allow them to wave sparklers or run while holding sparklers.

Playground

7. Always watch kids on a playground. Make sure the equipment is age appropriate and surfaces underneath are soft enough to absorb falls.

Lawnmowers

8. Kids younger than 16 shouldn’t be allowed to use riding mowers, and those younger than 12 shouldn’t use walk-behind mowers.

Bike and wheel-sport safety

9. Make it a rule: Wear a helmet every time you ride a bike, skateboard, scooter or use in-line skates. Skateboarders and scooter-riders should wear additional protective gear.

ATVs

10. Every rider should take a hands-on rider-safety course.

11. All kids should ride size-appropriate ATVs.

12. All riders should wear full protective gear including a helmet, chest protector, gloves and shin guards.

Minnesota spring means ticks, health risks

Deer ticks are tiny – about the size of a pencil tip – and brown-black in color. Wood ticks are larger and do not carry Lyme disease.

Erin Fritz, RN, CNP

The snow has now melted and the temperatures are rising, allowing our energy and activities to bring us outdoors. Spring weather brings sprouting trees, blooming flowers – and creepy crawly ticks that lurk in the woods, grass and marshy areas.

Whether you are heading up north to the cabin or playing in your backyard, ticks may be present and a tick bite may occur. Due to the extreme seasonal temperature changes and high humidity, Minnesota has a lot of ticks and high rates of tick-borne illness such as Lyme disease, and the risk remains high. Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria that is carried by some deer ticks. Deer ticks are tiny – about the size of a pencil tip – and brown-black in color. Wood ticks are larger and do not carry Lyme disease.

Prevention

Playing outdoors increases the risk of encountering a tick, but there are ways to prevent a tick from attaching and biting. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following for tick and Lyme disease prevention:

  • Cover arms and legs by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into socks
  • Wear a hat to cover hair
  • Wear light-colored clothing in order to see ticks more clearly
  • Wear enclosed shoes, use insect repellent with DEET
  • Stay on cleared trails whenever possible
  • Routinely check for ticks immediately after coming indoors

When you find a tick

Most ticks are noticed when crawling around on clothing or skin and easily can be removed by taking it off before it attaches to the body. If a tick already has attached, removal is rather easy and should be removed as soon as possible. While prompt removal is important to decrease the risk of developing Lyme disease, be aware that most medical experts agree that the tick must be attached for at least 24-36 hours before Lyme disease is transmitted.

In order to remove the tick:

  • Simply grasp the tick with a tweezers as close to the skin as possible
  • Without squeezing the tick’s body, slowly pull the tick away from the skin
  • Clean the bitten area with soap and water
  • Apply an antiseptic ointment

Be on the lookout

After tick removal, it’s important to monitor the site for expanding redness that might suggest a “bull’s eye” rash. This particular rash can be the first and most obvious sign of Lyme disease.  The rash usually doesn’t cause other symptoms, but burning or itching is a possibility. Further examination by a health care professional is needed if there is a bull’s eye rash, headaches, chills, fever, fatigue or muscle aches. If Lyme disease is suspected, a health care professional probably will prescribe an oral antibiotic for treatment. There’s no benefit in testing for Lyme disease at the time of the tick bite; even people that become infected will not have a positive blood test until approximately two to six weeks after the infection post-tick bite. Early identification and treatment is important to reduce the risk of worsening illness.

While ticks and tick-borne illness easily can be overlooked, prevention is vital. This is the time of year to take full advantage of the long-awaited summer. Get outside and play safely.

Erin Fritz is a certified nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Stress test: Helping kids lessen testing anxiety

To combat testing anxiety, students should have some go-to solutions such as engaging in a brief relaxing activity, outlining notes or playing a memory game. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Guest post by Maggie Sonnek

Mae Hyser is one smart cookie. At 12 years old, she already has her career planned out: become a writer and an illustrator. And mom Beth couldn’t be prouder.

“She’s kind of a Type-A personality,” Beth Hyser laughs. But, as end-of-the-year finals and projects approach, sixth-grader Mae is aware of the extra pressure. And so is her mom.

Are your kids stressed over tests? Here are some tips to help kids like Mae – and their parents – decrease stress and improve results.

Set up good study habits at an early age

It sounds obvious, right? Michelle Goldwin, MA, doctoral psychology intern at Children’s, says developing effective study habits earlier is a way for kids to feel more confident about their abilities to study and take tests.

“We’re noticing kids are becoming nervous about tests earlier and earlier,” she explains. “There are more standardized tests sooner; kids are learning that they have to do well in order to get good grades…to get into a good college…to get a good job.”

To combat that anxiety, students should have some go-to solutions at the ready, such as engaging in a brief relaxing activity, outlining notes or playing a memory game.

Create a positive bedtime routine

Bedtime can be the hardest time of the day for parents. But, it doesn’t have to be. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, MA, writes about practical strategies for getting a good night’s sleep in her book, Sleepless in America.

“Researchers have discovered that the sleep/wake cycle, or what researchers like to call the circadian rhythm, runs on a cycle closer to 25 hours than 24,” she writes. “In order to bring your child’s cycle into line with a 24 hour day, you have to set it with cues, like light and a regular sleep-and-wake schedule.”

Create a calming end-of-day routine, whether it’s quiet music, dim lighting or a scented candle.

Here are more ways to help your kids get a good night’s sleep.

Take breaks and use incentives

Even at the college level, students are still encouraged to take breaks. MIT supports several scheduled breaks throughout the day, saying, “Our minds need an occasional rest in order to stay alert and productive, and you can look forward to a reward as you study.”

For 12-year-old Mae that reward is a few coveted minutes on the iPad, which mom will gladly hand over after she practices her spelling words.

Value your child’s self-worth

Both Goldwin and Beth Hyser expound on the importance of valuing kids beyond the report card.

Goldwin says, “Parents can remind their kids, ‘I like that you’re working hard on this and giving it your all.’ But, be sure to remind them that they’re also a great artist or bowler. There are lots of special things about each child.”

Beth Hyser agrees. “If a C is your best, then that’s great.”

Change the way you think

Goldwin and the rest of the team in Psychological Services at Children’s utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a way to help patients with anxiety.

“We encourage students to pay attention to their negative thoughts, like ‘I’m not going to do well on this test’ and replace them with more helpful thoughts, like ‘I’ve studied and I feel confident that I know this material.’ ”

Practice self-care

This means eating a hearty breakfast the morning of a test, staying away from caffeinated beverages and paying attention to breathing.

“Before the day of the test, I encourage kids to practice deep breathing by placing a hand on their bellies,” Goldwin says. “Then, slowly breathe out and notice that their belly deflates.” She adds that sometimes she draws the analogy of the stomach being like a balloon that’s filling with air and then emptying.

Lessening testing anxiety may not always be easy for kids, but these strategies can get them started on the path to a less stressful testing season.

In what ways do you work with your kids to lessen anxiety before tests or other stressful times? Share in the comments.

More information: Psychological Services at Children’s

Maggie Sonnek is a writer, blogger, lover-of-outdoors and momma to two young kiddos. When she’s not kissing boo-boos or cutting up someone’s food, she likes to beat her husband at Scrabble.

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

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.

Can Christmas trees cause an allergic reaction?

Dr. Molly Martyn

By Molly Martyn, MD

While the sight and smell of a live Christmas tree is part of the holiday season for many, trees can also trigger allergies.  Common symptoms include sneezing, sniffling, itchy nose and eyes, and dry cough.

Pine, fir, and spruce allergies are relatively uncommon, but do exist.  More frequently, people react to the dust and mold that live Christmas trees carry.

For children with pine/fir or mold allergies, a live indoor Christmas tree is not a good option.  Instead, families may choose to decorate an outdoor tree or to buy an artificial Christmas tree.

Artificial trees should be wiped down with a damp cloth prior to use as they can accumulate dust and mold during storage.  If your family decorates a live tree, give it a good shake outdoors prior to bringing it into your home to help dislodge dust and mold spores (some tree lots will do this for you).  In drier climates, trees can be hosed down and allowed to dry prior to bringing them indoors, something harder to do in cold, snowy Minnesota.

If you are concerned that your child is experiencing allergy symptoms related to a Christmas tree, talk to their primary care provider. They can help discuss next steps in diagnosis and management.

For more information about winter and holiday-related allergies, the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology is a great resource.

Traveling with kids during the holidays

Molly Martyn, MD

Molly Martyn, MD

With the holiday season coming, many families are making plans to travel to see family and friends.  Airline travel with infants and young children can be both joyful and stressful.  Travel is often unpredictable, but advance preparation can go a long way when it comes to traveling as a family.

The Travel Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) both have tips on their websites for safe airline travel with children.  Below are some ideas and information to help your trip go more smoothly.

Planning and packing

1.  Many families find it helpful to use a checklist for packing, something you can use for the next time you travel.  Keep a pencil and piece of paper nearby while you go through your daily routine with your child and make notes of things that you will need to remember to pack.  In general, the less gear you have to tote around the better, but having an extra pacifier or a favorite comfort object with you will help make life easier for everyone.

2.  For older children, talk with them in the week prior to your trip about what they can expect at the airport and the new things they will get to explore and experience with a trip to the airport, an airplane ride, and at their destination.

3.   Check with your airline ahead of time regarding checking car seats and strollers.  If you bring a car seat or booster seat, they can often be checked as an extra piece of luggage without additional fees.  Most airlines will allow you to check a stroller at the gate, which is helpful because it means you can use your stroller to go through security and navigate the airport.

4.  Pack more food in your carry-on bag than you think you will need in case your travel is delayed or you find yourself waiting on a runway.  If you are traveling with an infant who drinks formula, bring extra.  If you are traveling with young children, pack plenty of nutritious, filling, familiar snacks that do not need to be refrigerated.

5.  Baby formula, breast milk, and jarred baby foods are allowed through security, but must be presented to a TSA officer.  Pack them separately from your other liquids or aerosols.  You can read more on the TSA website.

6.  Bundle diapers, wipes, a changing mat, and a few plastic bags together so that they are easy to access for diaper changes.  Pack extra clothes in your carry-on.  Footed pajamas are a good option because it is only one item of clothing to change in case of an accident, spit-up, etc.

Safety tips

1.  Children less than 2 years of age can legally travel in a parent or guardian’s lap, which is what most families opt for given the cost savings.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children travel in their own airplane seat, restrained in a car seat appropriate for their size and age.  A car seat that can be used in an airplane will carry a label stating that it is certified for use in both motor vehicles and airplanes.  Once children are 40 pounds, they can use the aircraft seatbelt.  Unlike in cars, booster seats are not routinely used for airline travel.

You can find out more information on the FAA’s website.

2.  Babies and small children can be carried through TSA screening (strollers and car seats have to go through the XRay machine).  TSA should not ask travelers to do anything that will separate them from their children.

3.  Have a plan with older children about what they would do in case you get separated while traveling (a place to meet, who they can safely ask for help, etc).

In the air

1.  Changes in altitude during take-off and landing can cause uncomfortable pressure and fullness in ears.  You can help keep infants comfortable by having them nurse or suck on a bottle (this mimics what older children and adults learn to do to “pop” their ears by yawning or chewing on gum).

2.  To occupy older children, pack a bag of “special treats” such as books/crayons/games to be used on the plane.

3.  Look forward to a safe arrival at your final destination!

Good luck and travel safely.  If you want to read more, here are some good sites and additional tips: