A healthy amount of concern for your kids
Children are back to school so they're bound to pick up the odd sniffle. It's worrying for parents when their little ones are under the weather - particularly if the cause of the illness is unclear.
Indeed, almost half of parents polled in a recent survey for The Portland Hospital For Women And Children in the UK admitted worrying about their child’s health had a psychological impact on them. And 68 per cent of the 2,300 respondents revealed they worried about their children’s health more than anything else.
Those parents who said they were psychologically affected by their child’s health admitted to suffering from common anxiety related conditions such as lack of sleep and being distracted at work. In addition, more than a fifth said the worry had affected their relationship with their partner.
However, Dr Ahmed Massoud - a paediatric consultant - insists there’s no need to panic in the majority of cases, pointing out that children are resilient and generally recover quickly from common illnesses.
There is one illness, he admits, that tends to generate fear among parents more than other - meningitis.
“They see lots of publicity about it so it’s always a worry,” he says. “But even if that’s not their concern, there’s always anxiety surrounding not knowing what the illness is.
“If you didn’t know what’s wrong with your child and then you find out, sometimes even if it’s a serious thing there can be some relief that the cause is known and you know where you’re heading.” Dr Massoud says parents are usually concerned about children who have a high temperature, or are off their food. While a persistent or very high temperature can be cause for concern and the need for medical advice, a child not eating can often just be a normal part of a minor illness.
Rashes are also high on the list of parents’ concerns, he says, usually because of the fear of meningitis or, more specifically, the meningococcal septicaemia that can cause a rash.
“When parents see a rash they often get concerned but the vast majority of rashes tend to be rather trivial and associated with viral illness,” says Dr Massoud.
He points out that it can be hard for a parent
to differentiate between rashes and stresses: “It’s best we get a thousand enquiries about rashes that don’t mean anything so we pick up the one that matters.”
Pneumonia can be another concern for parents who have a child suffering with a bad cough. But Dr Massoud points out that children with pneumonia will usually have other symptoms, including a high and/or persistent temperature, general unwellness, and fast breathing that takes extra effort.
A cough that’s only persisted for three or four days in an otherwise fit and healthy older child is usually nothing to worry about, he says. If the cough persists for several weeks it should be checked out, he says. Action should be taken sooner if it’s a younger child.
Parents should be careful not to be overprotective or let their child see they’re extremely anxious, warns the doctor, who points out that losing your sense of reality can be detrimental to a child’s condition. He warns mums and dads not to be scared of taking their child to the doctor if they’re worried about anything at all, stressing: “There’s nothing more precious than your child and if you have concerns about their health, get them checked out.
“Nine times out of 10 they’ll have nothing significantly wrong but it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Another common concern for parents is kids developing allergies and conditions, particularly potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.
Consultant paediatric allergist Dr George Du Toit points out that food intolerances are far rarer than many parents believe and allergies to foods like milk, eggs and wheat are often outgrown between the ages of five to eight years.
While anaphylaxis is rare, he adds: “If your child has a potentially life-threatening food allergy, you need to be overprotective to a degree because most accidents happen when other adults accidentally feed the child the [trigger] food.”
The most common trigger in food is peanuts. Around three per cent of young children are allergic to peanuts, he says. However, he adds: “The vast majority of parents of allergic children I come across are very brave in dealing with new and frightening conditions.”