It’s that time of year again, when prepared parents get a head start on supply shopping while our children eagerly pick out new backpacks in anticipation of the rapidly approaching return to school. As both a parent and a pediatrician, I’ve found that this is the time when it’s also useful to arm oneself with information about some of the more common ailments and health-related challenges of the season.
What first comes to mind, in addition to the annual scramble to get school physicals and sports forms signed (a necessary and important pre-requisite for getting the school year off to a good start), are the not-so-eagerly anticipated maladies that predictably show up each fall. While children predictably share everything from strep throat, pinkeye, and common cold viruses to dreaded head lice – I’ve found that it’s the back-to-school headaches and stomach aches that have a way of leaving parents scratching their heads wondering which ones warrant being taken seriously.
When it comes to stomachaches, parents often find it difficult to determine which ones are “real,” and which are simply the result of not wanting to go to school. By “real,” most parents are thinking of the stomach-flu type illnesses that often cause symptoms like fever, vomiting and/or diarrhea. It’s important for parents to understand, however, that stomach aches not attributable to a virus or other medical cause can still be quite real. Stress-related stomachaches in school-age children are actually quite common and often said to be the equivalent of headaches in adults. Even if the underlying cause is due to a child’s stress or desire not to attend school, very “real” symptoms (such as vomiting and diarrhea, but not fever) can result, and it’s worthwhile trying to identify and address the underlying cause(s).
Similarly, the appearance of headaches can often cause parents to question whether they are serious or simply related to new school year nerves. When it comes to getting a head start on school-year headaches, as well as stomachaches, it’s always important to consider when they first start (after the first day of school? or during the family’s eagerly anticipated summer vacation?), when they occur (first thing in the morning? Or after a long day of reading and/or computer use?), how bad are they (do they make your child stop doing even those things they really enjoy? Or only get in the way of chores and going to school?) And what makes them better or worse.
There are common medical explanations – the eye strain and/or the yet-identified need for glasses, or the onset of seasonal allergies, for example – but it’s equally important to enlist your child’s doctor if you need help sorting out stress-related causes of headaches and/or stomach aches, as the resulting symptoms can be just as “real,” and addressing them just as important.
Getting a handle on these school-time ailments, as well remembering to help ensure your children get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast, will go a very long ways towards making this a more enjoyable and productive school year.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska