general health issues

Kids Health: Common Back-To-School Illnesses and Injuries

children back to schoolGoing back to school can tax your kid’s health. Catching up with old friends and making new ones can be an exciting time, but one that puts them back in close contact with one another — with a result no one looks forward to: illnesses and injuries.

In the first few months of a new school year, there are lots of germs going around. They’re on desks, keyboards, in the classroom and on the playground where accidents also happen.

Over time, your child will become immune to many infectious diseases. In the meantime, teach her or him to wash their hands well—and often. If your child does come down with a bug, keep him or her home from school until they’re fever-free for 24 hours without medicine.

Common Kids Health Back-To-School Illnesses and Injuries Include:

  • “Backpack-itis”: Overstuffed backpacks can cause head, neck and shoulder pain, as well as lead to bad posture. Use your bathroom scale to figure out what your kid weighs with and without her or his backpack. Make sure the “locked and loaded” backpack doesn’t weigh more than 10 percent of his or her weight. Also, make sure your child wears both straps. A lightweight pack with wide straps and a padded back is a good choice.
  • Colds and flu: Colds are very contagious. If your child doesn’t have a fever, it’s probably okay to go to school. It’s important not to spread germs — so teach your kid to cough or sneeze into a tissue—or an elbow—and to wash her or his hands. When it comes to flu, prevention is important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu shot for everyone age six months and older.
  • Impetigo: This skin infection is very contagious. Symptoms include sores and blisters on the face, neck, and hands. Keep any cuts clean and teach your child, not to scratch rashes and bug bites. Thorough handwashing helps prevent the spread of impetigo and also strep throat, which is related.
  • Lice: These tiny bugs live on the scalp, feed on blood and cause itching. Kids usually get lice by being in close contact with someone who has them. To keep your family lice-free, teach your child to avoid head-to-head contact and not to share hats, helmets, hair accessories, towels, or other personal things. Make sure students don’t share cubbies or lockers.
  • Pinkeye: This eye infection, also called conjunctivitis, is easily spread from one kid to the next in school. Signs include bloodshot eyes, itchy and burning eyes, and a yellow or green eye discharge from the eyes. If your child has pinkeye, a prescription for antibiotic eye drops is needed to treat it. Like other contagious diseases, the best prevention is good handwashing.
  • Playground injuries:  Common injuries are fractures, cuts, bruises, and sprains. But dislocations, broken bones and concussions can also happen. Most injuries happen on playground bars or climbers. Make sure the playground is supervised and that your child follows the rules.
  • Strep throat: Strep throat can spread through the student body pretty fast. In addition to a sore throat, symptoms may include a runny nose, high fever, and headache. If untreated, a strep throat could lead to rheumatic fever. It’s important to get a strep test and treat this disease with antibiotics. Teach your child to steer clear of anyone with a sore throat and to wash hands often. Your child should know not to share drinks, spoons, forks, knives or toothbrushes.
  • Stomach flu: This bug isn’t really the flu—but it is a virus and it’s highly contagious. It causes stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea. Stomach bugs can lead to dehydration. Teach your child to always wash hands after using the bathroom and before eating. Your child should not share drinks, forks, knives, spoons, or toothbrushes.

Know Where to Go for Kids Health Issues

Your pediatrician or family doctor knows your kid’s health the best, but if your doctor isn’t available and you need health care right away or outside of your doctor’s office hours, minute clinics, and urgent care centers are good choices. Minute Clinics can treat minor illnesses. Urgent care centers also treat minor illnesses and can perform X-rays and more advanced treatment for kid’s health issues that aren’t life-threatening.

Know where to go to get the right care at the right time. Your primary care doctor knows your child’s 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.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

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 of mobility
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Broken bones that break through the 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.

Talk to Our Nurses

If you still aren’t 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).

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.

Sunscreen 101

It’s time to enjoy the sunshine. After all, you deserve it! But don’t forget, your skin deserves some protection. The skin is a living organ system that interacts with the external environment while protecting our internal organs. Thus, it is important to know about proper sun protection for your skin.

What is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor, meaning there is an extra layer of protection that an individual receives from the application of sunscreen. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the recommendation is to use a sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and labeled as “broad-spectrum SPF.” The American Cancer Society recommends sunscreens with SPF 30 when engaging in outdoor activities.

What exactly do these numbers mean?

A broad-spectrum sunscreen that has SPF 15 means that particular bottle of sunscreen will offer sun protection against both UVA and UVB rays 15x longer than without sunscreen at all.

UVA vs UVB Rays

UVA and UVB rays are two types of radiation from sunlight that, in excess, can be harmful to the skin. UVA rays penetrate the skin deeper than UVB rays and are the ray responsible for skin aging, wrinkling, and tanning. UVB rays damage the outermost layers of the skin and are primarily responsible for sunburns and reddening of the skin.

Which SPF Sunscreen is Right for Me?

When considering which level of SPF to use, it is important to know that an SPF of 30 does not necessarily offer twice the protection of an SPF of 15; while higher SPF sunscreens offer more protection, it is not a linear scale. The higher the SPF the greater percentage of harmful rays are prevented from reddening the skin.

  • SPF 15 protects against 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 protects against 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 protects against 98% of UVB rays

Applying Sunscreen

Picking the right sunscreen is just as important as applying the sunscreen correctly. If you are going to be using insect repellent and sunscreen, be sure to apply the sunscreen first and wait at least 30 minutes before applying the insect repellent. Apply the sunscreen liberally and be sure to follow the directions listed. To get a sense of how much sunscreen you should apply, the recommended amount is at least two tablespoons.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, no sunscreen is waterproof. Some sunscreens may have water or sweat resistance. These water/sweat resistant sunscreens should detail a specific amount of time the labeled SPF level of protection lasts for an individual when swimming or sweating. Finally, it is important that you reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, regardless of the level of SPF.

Protective Clothing

Protective clothing is another way to ensure your skin is optimally protected against UV radiation. Long sleeve shirts, long pants, and wide-brimmed hats protect against just that. If the clothes are tightly woven or dark, it’s even more protection. Sunglasses with lenses that protect 100% against UVA and UVB radiation are also strongly recommended. If you have a history of skin cancer or increased risk of getting sunburns, protective clothing is very important and should be worn whenever exposed to sunlight. These clothes help to keep rays from harming skin.

How to Treat Sunburn

Sunburn is defined as a sign of skin damage from spending too much time outdoors without wearing a protective sunscreen, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. If you find yourself with a sunburn, taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen or aspirin) and applying cold compresses or ice packs aids the pain relief. Additionally, taking cool baths or showers frequently may help. After the bath, gently pat yourself dry but leave some water on the skin and apply a moisturizer. The use of moisturizing creams and lotions (including aloe) will also help prevent drying and cracking. If a blister does form, leave it intact for a faster healing process. If you have a sunburn, stay out of the sun for a few days in a cool, shaded, or indoor space and drink plenty of water.

Sun poisoning is when an itchy, red rash has appeared on the skin after being exposed to sunlight, also known as a sun allergy. It may take only minutes for signs of sun poisoning to appear after exposure to the sun. These signs are redness, itchiness/pain, elevated red patches, blisters, scaling, or even bleeding.

Summer is a great time to relax and have some fun in the sun. Keeping your skin properly protected allows for you to enjoy this time frequently and safely. If you are in the sun often, it is beneficial to do self-screenings at least once a month to make sure everything is all right.

Know Where to Go When it’s Not Life Threatening

Go to your primary care physician, family doctor, or pediatrician if you have concerns about your sunburn, or for questions regarding over-the-counter remedies, contact your primary care physician.

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

MinuteClinics 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.

When to Go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room

In some cases, sunburns can be bad enough to require advanced care. Go to urgent care or the ER if your symptoms include:

  • Severe pain
  • Severe blistering
  • Severe headache
  • Confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Faintness or dizziness

Those with a severe burn who also suffer from a serious health condition – such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, or diabetes – should seek emergency care.

If you’re not sure if which type of care you need, call your family doctor or HealthConnection at 404-778-7777 and speak to an Emory nurse for assistance.

To learn more about getting the right care at the right time and in the right place, or to find locations, visit