lifestyle medicine

Back-to-School Bugs & Beyond: Know Where to Go

Back to school bugsBack-to-school bugs mean your kids may soon be coming home sniffling, sneezing or showing other signs of battling a “bug.”

Your kid’s classroom can be just the kind of enclosed space that makes a great breeding ground for viruses and bacteria to multiply and spread. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), elementary school children catch eight to 12 colds or cases of flu each school year.

Back-to-School Bugs

Back to school brings kids back in touch with lots of other kids. It can be a stressful time, even for kids who have the healthiest immune systems. Children returning to school may be exposed to:

  • Colds, cold sores, coughs
  • Pink eye
  • Stomach bugs

You can prepare your kids for battling any back-to-school bugs by strengthening their immune systems. Here’s how:

  • Get your kids back on a good sleep schedule
  • Boost diets with Vitamin C rich fruits & veggies
  • Make sure they stay hydrated

Healthy Habits

  • Hand washing: The best way for your child to stay healthy at school is to practice good hand washing. Teach your child to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. That’s how you know they’ll be washing for at least twenty seconds. And, your child should use soap. It’s more effective than hand sanitizers.
  • Clean water: Arm your child with a water bottle and teach them this is one thing that should never be shared. Hydration is important, but drinking fountains can be hot zones for germs. They aren’t cleaned and disinfected as often as school bathrooms are. If your child does use the water fountain, they should let the water run before drinking and keep their mouths from touching the fountain.
  • Healthy manners: Teach your child to always cough or sneeze into an elbow.

Allergy Alert

Here in Atlanta, ragweed pollen blooms in August and is at its peak in September. In addition to ragweed, tree pollens can also be blamed for allergies.

If your child suffers from allergies, prepare for back to school by pretreating with allergy medication before the peak of pollen season.

Symptoms of allergies include:

  • Asthma attacks
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy eyes, nose, and scratchy throat
  • Post-nasal drip, runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sneezing

Learn more about allergies here.

Know Where to Go When It’s Not Life Threatening

Primary care physician, family doctor or pediatrician: If your child does come down with a bug or an infection, start out by seeing your pediatrician, family doctor or primary care physician (PCP). They are already familiar with your child and know their health history best.

If you can’t get an appointment at a time that works for you, or your doctor’s schedule is all booked up, don’t stress. You have options.

MinuteClinics and urgent care centers are good alternatives if you need to see a health care provider sooner than you can see your PCP, or if you need care outside of your PCP’s normal office hours. MinuteClinics can treat many minor illnesses and injuries and prescribe medications. Urgent care centers can treat serious, but not life-threatening illnesses or injuries.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

Unfortunately, playground accidents and back-to-school injuries can happen. In addition to bumps and bruises, your child might show signs of an urgent condition. Go to the ER for urgent conditions, including:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain
  • Fainting, dizziness, weakness or lack mobility
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Broken bones that break through skin
  • Severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Poisoning
  • Head or neck injury
  • Suspected concussion

If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed, how long a fever or rash has lasted, how often your child has gone to the bathroom, any medications, who they’ve been in contact with, and any other health concerns. Bring water, snacks and a toy for your child.

Know Where to Go

Knowing where to go when you’re ill or injured makes a big difference. But it can get confusing. Know where to go to get right care at the right time. Your primary care doctor knows your medical history best, but the Emory Healthcare Network also includes Peachtree Immediate Care Urgent Care and CVS MinuteClinics, hundreds of primary care locations and 6 ERs throughout metro Atlanta. Get the care you need wherever you need it. See our map to find the locations closest to you.

Talk to Our Nurses

If you’re not sure if a trip to the ER is needed, call your family doctor or the Emory HealthConnection where registered nurses can help you find a location or specialist that’s right for you. Call 404-778-7777 from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST (M-F).

About Dr. Colovos

Nick Colovos, MD, received his degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1993 and completed his residency in emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo Ohio in 1996. His work experiences in the academic, public and private sectors of medical care have allowed him to develop a unique perspective on the business of healthcare and its delivery to patients. He currently serves as Medical Director for the Emory Healthcare Urgent Care and MinuteClinic Strategy and Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.


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Lifestyle Is the Best Medicine—A Call to Action

Women at the farmer's marketKnowing your numbers—blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight—is important. These risk factors and markers, however, only partially tell your story. They measure your risk of disease rather than indicate your well-being.

Well-being is more than the absence of disease. It is living life with joy, energy, fulfillment and health. Sadly, we are living at a time when there is a health care paradox: while medical costs continue to rise, our health and well-being are declining. Currently, seven out of 10 deaths in America each year are due to chronic diseases that are mostly preventable, such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. We are dying prematurely, and these diseases are compromising the quality of our years. Our children are projected to fare worse—for the first time in two centuries, they may backslide on the steady rise in life expectancy.

The reason that unsustainable spending on treatments and exponential increases in technology aren’t improving our collective health is that we aren’t treating the underlying cause of disease. Through our lifestyle—eating healthily, exercising, maintaining our weight, and avoiding tobacco—we can prevent up to 80 percent of chronic diseases.

Yes – the biggest killers in this country can be nearly eradicated. But it has to begin with you and with all of us making a different kind of investment in our health. We need to invest in our well-being before the onset of the disease. And it seems we have a long way to go. Less than 3 percent of Americans engage in the healthy behaviors that can prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. It’s time to change that.

By using lifestyle as medicine—through a whole food, plant-based diet, exercise, and emotional well-being—we can awaken our innate power to heal. We won’t only prevent disease, but experience a new level of physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” To change the course of your health, you have to be intentional about your daily habits and behaviors. An abundance of research studies indicates more of your health is in your control than you might think. With the right support and guidance, you can feel more energy, creativity and happiness. Here are some steps you can take:

Learn Self Care

It’s been said that knowledge is power. Despite seeming confusion and controversy, there is a convergence of expert opinion and scientific evidence demonstrating what our bodies need for health. Epidemiologic, ecologic, and interventional studies support that a diet of minimally processed food, mostly plants, routine movement, strong social support, and a sense of purpose are among the traits that add healthy years to life. It’s simple yet at the same time powerful. Your lifestyle alters inflammation, oxidative damage, your gut bacteria, and how your genes are expressed. These, in turn, are at the root of preventing and treating common diseases and improving your well-being.

In addition to knowledge, you need skills—such as culinary skills, skills to build emotional resilience, and skills to create and sustain good habits. These capabilities are accessible to all of us. We can each become more engaged, active participants in our own care.

Set Personal Health Goals

Putting what you know into daily practice can be challenging. Our modern world conspires against us—tilting us toward high-fat, sugary processed food, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and inadequate sleep.

By setting personal goals, you can stay focused on long-term benefits rather than short-term rewards. The first step you should take is to examine your health behaviors and become mindful of what makes you get off track. As a primary care physician, I know first-hand how hard that can be. I have also seen countless success stories. I know it can be done. Trust that it can be life-changing.

Invest in Your Emotional Health

A healthy lifestyle is often equated to following a healthful diet and exercising. Whole health, however, involves nurturing emotional as well as physical health. Getting good at managing stress, investing in strong social relationships, and living with purpose can have a more significant benefit on your health than controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol. There is an inescapable connection between our mind and our body. And you need to nourish both to feel your best.

Emory Lifestyle Medicine & Wellness: Join a Community

As the poet John Donne famously penned, “No man is an island.” We thrive when we work collaboratively to tackle and overcome our greatest obstacles. We recently launched Emory Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness to build an interactive community focused on whole-person, self-care solutions. We combine science and well-proven strategies with immersive learning to get to the root cause of disease. We want to spread knowledge about the fundamentals of health—to fulfill our vision of people living happier, healthier lives. We invite you to learn more.

About Sharon H. Bergquist, MD

Sharon Bergquist, MD, received her degree from Harvard Medical School in 1997, and completed her residency in internal medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in 2000. Dr. Bergquist strongly believes in comprehensive health management, and incorporates prevention and wellness strategies into her practice along with managing chronic disease. Her expertise includes heart disease prevention and management, women’s health, diabetes, nutrition and obesity counseling, and the treatment of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.