Healthy back to school: 10 things you need to know

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A new school year can bring on many pressures for children and teenagers, including a new school, classes, friends and exams. Psychology professionals and school counsellors alike are noticing increased stress and anxiety in young people – from separation anxiety and social anxiety to performance and test anxiety.

If parents are noticing their child is anxious, stressed or worried about something, talk it out, says Thomas Holmes, a registered psychologist who practices privately and with the Sturgeon School Division in Morinville.

Don’t label your kid a ‘worrier.’

“The cause of their worry, whether it be school or the dark, really isn’t the most important part,” he says. “We think it’s the darkness or the school that is the issue, (but) it’s really about redirecting the child to talk about it.”

To keep anxiety at bay, he recommends following this acronym:

Breathe

Relax

Allow visualization (go to a happy place)

Go do whatever you need to do (i.e. school or bed)

Even with their milk teeth just growing in, babies can still get cavities.

The Alberta Dental Association and College recommends taking your child in for their first dental appointment around the age of one. In practice, most dentists start seeing their youngest patients at the age of three, says Dr. Jeanine David at Cadence Dental on Inglewood Drive.

Typically dental screenings will be completed by the family doctor or nurse during routine check ups until they reach preschool age.

“With one-year-olds in the office, they’re just crying and it’s usually not a good experience,” David explains, adding that parents are welcome to come in with questions about their child’s dental health.

Deep cavities even in baby teeth can have bad consequences, she says.

“A lot of parents think ‘Oh, it’s a baby tooth, we can pull it out or leave it because it will fall out.’ (Cavities) can affect the adult teeth growing underneath them and cause problems.”

Rampant decay can also affect the child’s eating and impact weight, growth and development. Dental check ups every six months are recommended.

Middle ear infections are most common in children because their Eustachian tubes (the small tube that connects your ear to your throat) are smaller and block more easily than in adults.

The main symptoms of an ear infection are an earache, exhibited when babies and young children make a fuss or pull at their ears and cry.

Most ear infections go away on their own, says information from Alberta Health Services, although antibiotics are recommended for children younger than six months and those at high risk for complications.

An antibiotic such as amoxicillin is often the first line of treatment, says Ryan Diprose, pharmacist and co-owner of the Grandin Prescription Centre.

“It’s still effective in the majority of cases. Kids that have chronic ear infections, are in day cares or higher risk situations, will often be given a higher dose or different antibiotic because there is a higher risk the bugs around them are (antibiotic) resistant,” he says.

Ear infections can also be treated at home with a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), a warm cloth on the ear and rest, recommends AHS.

Food allergies affect approximately seven per cent of Canadians, states Health Canada. But fewer are likely to have a physician-diagnosed food allergy, which are estimated to affect five to six per cent of young children.

The most common food allergies in children are caused by peanuts and cows’ milk. Other culprits are eggs, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat, states the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish allergies tend to provoke the most severe reactions and last a lifetime. Kids often outgrow allergies to wheat, eggs, soy and cows’ milk.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists estimates that up to 25 per cent of children from kindergarten to Grade 6 have vision problems.

“Since so much of learning is visually-based it can have very big consequences,” says Dr. Amy Bakelaar at St. Albert Optometrists’ Clinic, noting vision problems can affect reading, coordination and participation in sports at school.

The most common vision issues in school-aged children are far-sightedness, near-sightedness or astigmatism – all of which can be easily corrected with glasses. If uncorrected, some of these can lead to imbalances in binocular vision and a lazy eye, says Bakelaar.

Optometrists recommend children be brought in for a visual assessment at six months of age, again at three years old and every year after that.

Through a program called Eye See Eye Learn, kindergarten aged children get an eye exam by an optometrist and if needed, a free pair of glasses. The St. Albert Optometrists’ Clinic has been participating in the program since 2011.

Newborns undergo a hearing screening at the hospital shortly after they are born, but hearing problems can also creep up later in childhood.

A family history of hearing loss during childhood, injury or trauma to the head or ear, constant ear infections, speech/language or developmental delay should prompt a hearing test, states the Canadian Academy of Audiology.

Hearing tests are usually performed on children eight years and older by a registered audiologist, says Carmel Lovasz, a hearing aid practitioner at Discovery Hearing in Tudor Glen.

Back to school could bring an itchy encounter with head lice.

Common in school-aged children, the tiny parasitic insects that live on humans and feed on blood, are usually found in hair on the head, back of the neck and behind the ears.

Head lice are typically treated with one or two treatments of over-the-counter cream, lotion or shampoo.

Products such as Nix and Kwellada, have an active ingredient of permethrin, which kills live lice but not unhatched eggs. Instead of using a pesticide as the active ingredient, products such as Resultz and Nyda dissolve the waxy exoskeleton that covers the lice, which dehydrates them and eventually kills them.

“They are very similar in efficacy,” says Diprose, noting people have been switching to the latter products over concern about pesticide-resistant lice.

This year’s Active Healthy Kids Canada report card on physical activity for children and youth found that young people are too sedentary.

For 2014, the nation’s physical activity levels received a “D-” grade.

The report found that 79 per cent of parents support their kids’ physical activity financially – through fees, equipment – but only 37 per cent of them say they participated or played active games with their children in the past year.

Canadian parents are looking to schools and structured activities such as organized sports to get their kids moving, instead of active transpirations to school, active play and role modeling active lifestyles.

Canada physical activity guidelines state that infants (less than one year) should be physically active several times a day, particularly through interactive floor-based play.

Toddlers (one to two years) and preschoolers (three to four years) should accumulate at least 180 minutes of physical activity at any intensity spread throughout the day.

Children aged five to 11 should have at least 60 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily, with vigorous-intensity and strengthening at least three days per week. Teens aged 12 to 17 years should have the same.

Influenza season starts any time between October and April usually lasts six to eight weeks. The peak is usually in the middle.

Public immunization clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies typically begin offering vaccinations in October.

A frenzy broke out last January after several H1N1 deaths and more than 2,200 cases of influenza were confirmed across Alberta (with more than 400 hospitalizations and 49 people in intensive care).

Last flu season, more than 1 million Albertans were immunized. Young children are at higher risk to contract and get complications from the flu.

Health officials urge people to their flu shot early this year.

The easy spread of germs and viruses are a big part of going back to school.

They are commonly spread from nose, mouth, or eyes to hands (and then to others), hands to food, food to hands to food, animals to people and from one infected child to another.

The infections that can result include bronchiolitis, croup, flu, the common cold, strep throat, pink eye and the stomach flu, states caringforkids.cps.ca.

Hand washing, coughing and sneezing into your sleeve can do wonders to stop the infection chain, says Diprose.

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