Houston Area Pediatric Specialists

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Asthma one of the Top Reasons Children Miss School

With cold and flu season right around the corner, keeping children healthy is on the top of every parent's mind.

According to 2010 figures from the National Center for Health Statistics, 43% of children ages 5-17 years missed three or more school days in the past year because of illness or injury; 6% missed 11 days or more. An estimated 22 million school days are lost annually because of colds alone.

"There is a correlation between academic success and being in school," says Martha Dewey Bergren, director of research for the National Association of School Nurses. "Seat time affects learning."

Here's a look at some of the ailments that most often keep students out of school, and advice for parents:


The chronic lung disease affects an estimated 7 million kids under 18 and accounts for more than 14 million absences annually. Parents should give the school office (plus teachers and coaches) a plan that specifies symptoms, medications and what to do if an asthma episode does not improve with prescribed medicine, says Norman Edelman, the American Lung Association's chief medical officer. Early in the school year, parents should "do an environmental check of the allergens and other irritants that can trigger an attack," he adds.

It's important that "families work together with their schools and health care provider to manage conditions," says Linda Caldart-Olson of the American School Health Association.

Respiratory infections

A group of viruses that cause various upper and lower respiratory infections are quite common in autumn, says Cynthia DiLaura Devore, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health. These infections, which also can trigger asthma attacks, cause flu-like symptoms (coughs, fever, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea) that can put a child out of commission for five to 10 days, and are contagious, says Devore. She says parents should keep children home until they're fever-free and off symptom-reducing medicines for 24 hours.


January to March is the height of flu season, but now is the time for everyone 6 months and older to get the flu vaccine, says pediatric infectious-disease specialist Mary Anne Jackson of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. This year's vaccine is formulated to protect against the same three strains as last year's.

Stomach viruses

A number of viruses can infect the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in gastroenteritis or "stomach flu." Marked by vomiting and diarrhea, it usually lasts only 24 to 72 hours, says Devore. Because the viruses are spread through close contact by sharing food or eating utensils, hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizers are critical.

Head lice

In school districts with "no nit" policies, kids with lice must stay home until any sign of eggs has passed. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses oppose the policies because they have not been shown to effectively reduce the spread, no disease is linked to lice, and in-school transmission is rare, says Devore.

Preventable diseases

Outbreaks in the USA last year of potentially fatal, vaccine-preventable diseases, including pertussis (whooping cough) and measles, highlight the importance of "being vigilant about all immunizations," says Jackson. CDC offers immunization schedulers at cdc.gov/vaccines.

School refusal

Repeated episodes of what Devore calls "Sunday Night Stomach" or chronic absences without a medical excuse should be taken seriously, she says. When kids express anxieties, fears and resistance to school, they may simply need a little extra "reassurance, understanding and limit-setting" or there may be serious mental health concerns. Either way, it shouldn't be lightly dismissed, says Devore.

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