Published: 2 February 2021. As told to: Suzanne Baum
From the signs and symptoms of coronavirus to dealing with allergic reactions, your questions on children’s health are tackled by Dr Roshane Mohidin, NHS GP and Vitality Healthcare Pathways & Behaviour Change Manager.
As a parent, you want to keep your children as healthy as possible. Understanding common illnesses and other health issues, both physical and mental, will help you to decide when to call your GP and when to treat the symptoms at home.
We asked children’s health expert Dr Roshane Mohidin to answer the 10 most frequently asked questions.
How worried should I be about Covid-19 and its new variant?
Covid-19 is still our biggest health concern. Given that children have continued to go to school on and off during the various lockdowns, it’s understandable to be concerned by the risks it presents. However, it’s reassuring to know that if children do become ill with coronavirus, very few have severe symptoms.
As with adults, the symptoms to look out for are a new continuous cough, high temperature and/or a loss of or change to their sense of taste or smell.
The new, more infectious coronavirus variant present in the UK has caused fresh worries and uncertainty over its impact on testing and vaccines. We’re also concerned about how it will affect children. Early research has found that the new variant can enter the body’s cells more easily, although more studies are needed to better understand how this works.
How do I know if my child has Covid or a cold?
Respiratory infections rise over the winter months, and I see a lot of cases of the common cold and flu at this time of year. The main symptoms are a fever or a cough or sore throat. If it’s Covid, you’re likely to see a new, continuous cough, high temperature or a loss of or change to the sense of taste and smell. If you or your child has any of these symptoms, it’s important to get tested for Covid-19 and self-isolate at home until you get the result (if the test is positive you’ll need to self-isolate for 10 days from the first symptoms).
Will the Covid pandemic affect my child’s mental health?
The pandemic has been challenging for both adults and children. The closure of schools, and less social contact with friends, can lead to loneliness and feelings of isolation. Add to that the worries of increased academic pressure and cancellation of exams for secondary school children and it’s hardly surprising kids are feeling the strain.
It’s important to support your child however you can and reassure them that this will pass. It’s also helpful to carry on with as many regular routines as possible, including, if you can, spending time doing hobbies and other activities together. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental wellbeing, get in touch with your GP, who can tell you about other kinds of help available.
Should I be concerned about norovirus?
In a word, yes. The norovirus can be quite nasty and very infectious. The symptoms of this horrible virus – and other similar stomach infections – include diarrhoea and vomiting. If they’re not already learning from home, children should stay away from school, rest and drink plenty of fluids.
What are the symptoms of childhood asthma?
Asthma is most common in children and one of the main reasons children go to their GP, usually following a flare-up caused by something like a chest infection. Typical early symptoms can include an occasional cough, which is worse at night, or breathlessness and wheezing, which can be exacerbated by triggers such as exercise.
At what stage should I take my child to the GP if their eczema is bad?
Eczema is very common and often develops alongside other conditions such as hay fever and asthma. Eczema is when the skin becomes itchy, dry and at times, red and inflamed. It can affect small patches over the body or be widespread.
Parents often contact me having recognised the signs of an eczema flare, needing a combination of creams to help settle the inflammation. Only if it seems like a particularly nasty case would I send them to see a dermatologist.
How do I know if my child has a food allergy?
Food allergies are on the rise and it’s not just due to faster diagnosis. There are multiple factors that can come into play, including dietary changes and pollution. The most common allergies are to cow’s milk, fish, eggs, certain nuts (tree nuts and peanuts) and wheat.
Symptoms usually develop just seconds or minutes after eating; the most common include tingling or itching in the mouth, a rash, swelling, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, tummy pain and hay-fever-like symptoms. If you suspect a food allergy, first avoid your suspect food and start keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks (include any symptoms you notice). You can then go over this with your GP. Of course, if the reaction is severe, do get help straight away.
What should I do about head lice?
Head lice and their eggs (nits) are a common health complaint, causing itching and irritation, and spreading easily between children and adults. If your child is scratching their head a lot, look closely and both lice and nits are visible to the human eye. The good news is you don’t need to visit the GP to get them sorted; simple and effective treatment is available from pharmacies.
What are the symptoms of slapped-cheek?
Slapped-cheek syndrome is another common illness among kids. The symptoms paint a similar picture as colds and flu, with fever, runny nose and sore throat common. However, it’s the distinctive bright red rash on the cheeks that helps to make a diagnosis. Although slapped-cheek can look alarming, symptoms are usually mild and ease with nothing more than rest, fluids and paracetamol to help with the fever.
How concerned should I be about eating disorders?
The most common eating disorders in children are anorexia and bulimia, the development of which tends to be limited to girls in their teenage years, although it can happen sooner. It’s important to remember that the number of sufferers under 12 is very low, and that anorexia affects just 0.03% of the UK population in general.
Nevertheless, do be aware of the signs, such as missing meals, concerns over body image, and weight and height not being in line with their age. Contact your GP if you’re concerned, and they can point you in the direction of specialist care.
More prevalent, however, is obesity. Around 1 in 3 children in the UK are overweight or obese when they start secondary school, the main causes being poor diet and lack of physical activity. If you’re worried about your child’s weight, try to focus on providing a balanced diet, including a variety of fruit and vegetables, and limiting salt and sugar. Introduce daily exercise such as walking, cycling or trying out an online exercise class.
Find more top tips for children’s health in our blog How to keep your kids healthy