Risk increases at back-to-school time
The average school child in Ireland can expect to catch up to eight colds and two to three bouts of viral gastroenteritis per year, pharmacists have warned.
According to the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), most common childhood illnesses are contagious and with children returning to school this week, their chance of becoming ill is set to increase.
"School children are still in the process of building their immune systems to many infections caused by the bacteria and viruses that they are exposed to on a day-to day-basis. With children back to school it is inevitable that this increases their chances of becoming sick, as the majority of common childhood illnesses are contagious and caught from classmates, which are then often passed on to other siblings at home," explained Bernard Duggan of the IPU.
However he emphasised that many of these illnesses can be treated at home and encouraging children to wash their hands regularly is the first line of defence in preventing the spread of germs.
"Encouraging children to wash their hands regularly and properly is essential as it is one of the easiest ways to stop the spread of germs. Having wipes in a child's schoolbag is a good idea as they can use them when required," Mr Duggan noted.
The IPU emphasised that when it comes to colds and the flu, antibiotics will not work as these are caused by viruses. Children should be given plenty of rest and fluids, and paracetamol should be given for aches and pain.
Most sore throats and bouts of tonsillitis are also caused by viruses, so again, antibiotics will not work. Paracetamol and plenty of fluids are again recommended. Medical help should be sought if there are white spots on the throat or tonsils, if a high fever is present, or if the child is having difficulty breathing or swallowing.
If a child has diarrhoea or vomiting, keep them at home away from other children. Keep them well hydrated with lots of clear fluids and check with a pharmacist whether Dioralyte should be given.
Tips for other common ailments include:
-If a child has a nosebleed, get them to sit forward and blow their nose clear, then pinch the fleshy part of the nose for at least 10 minutes to stem the bleeding. If bleeding persists, visit your GP
-Routinely check your child for head lice, ideally once a week. Only treat a child if moving lice are found. Treatment will not prevent an outbreak
-Chickenpox can spread quickly in schools. It presents as a rash of small red spots or patches which blister and crust over. The spots can be itchy and fever can occur. Paracetamol can be given to treat a fever and ask your pharmacist about topical treatments for the spots, such as Calamine lotion.
The IPU is also reminding parents to ensure that they give the correct dosage of paracetamol or any other medicine.
Meanwhile when it comes to seeking medical advice, the IPU said that this should ‘depend on how the initial symptoms progress and if they get any worse'.
"Your local pharmacist can be the first port of call for advice and support. However, if a child displays a fever that lasts more than 48 hours, has difficulty breathing or is confused or extremely sleepy, parents should seek medical assistance immediately," Mr Duggan added.