A sick child is every parent’s nightmare. Parents leave no stone unturned to get the best treatment for their children.
A young child’s immune system is still in its developing stages and has not been exposed to many infections. This makes them prone to illnesses.
We have tried to sum up some of the commonest illnesses in children as a guide to dealing with them (please consult your pediatrician for medication).
Malnutrition (under-nourishment, obesity, or deficiency of a particular element in diet) forms the greatest burden of diseases among Indian children.
Malnutrition is not a condition affecting only the poor, it cuts across all social-economic groups across India.
In semi-urban and rural areas, diets lacking proteins and carbohydrates result in diseases like kwashiorkor and marasmus. Such children need to be rehabilitated at healthcare centers by feeding them calories and proteins in excess of the normal recommendations.
Amongst the affluent, poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles produce obese children. With 14.4 million obese children, India has the second-highest number of obese children in the world, next to only China.
Childhood obesity increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and sleep apnea (shortness of breath when sleeping). Until recently, these health conditions had only been found in adults; but now they are extremely prevalent in obese children.
The Indian diet lacks in iron and Vitamin A. Anemia and poor night vision is very common.
Urban children are additionally susceptible to Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of physical activity and little exposure to sunlight. Brittle bones (rickets in severe cases) is common.
Parents should be well-informed about the nutritional value of different food items and should keep a vigilant check on their child’s diet.
A good diet goes a long way in living a healthy life.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI)
URTIs are caused by common colds (most common), influenza, and sore throat.
Common colds are caused by viruses, called rhinoviruses, in the upper respiratory tract. These are the most common disease-causing viruses in man, both children, and adults alike. Young children can get 6 to 8 bouts per year. Symptoms of a cold (runny nose, congestion, cough) may last for up to ten days.
Decongestant nasal drops (make sure it does not contain phenylephrine) and vapour inhalation relieve symptoms.
Green mucus in the nose does not automatically mean that antibiotics are needed; common colds never need antibiotics.
Tonsillitis is particularly common among children.
If a sinus infection is suspected, the doctor will have to decide whether antibiotics are needed based on symptoms and a physical exam.
Prolonged infection may travel to the middle ear, causing inflammation (otitis) which needs urgent treatment.
Sore throat and strep throat are similar, but differ in their cause and slightly in their symptoms – (strep throat is usually involved with pus discharge, white spots on the tongue, etc). Strep throat needs prescription drugs for treatment.
At least 241 million children below the age of 14 years are at risk of getting intestinal parasites in India. Our soil quality and temperature are conducive to their growth – poor sanitation adds to the risk.
The Lancet — a well-regarded science journal — has drawn attention to the importance of deworming in tropical countries. The Government of India has a deworming programme in place for all children between 8-19 years (deworming tablets are given).
While light infections are usually asymptomatic, heavier infections cause abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, loss of appetite; malnutrition and growth stunting is observed in long-lasting cases.
Monitoring schoolchildren for intestinal parasites (most commonly Giardia intestinalis and Ascaris lumbricoides) is necessary.
Rotaviruses are the single most important cause of gastroenteritis in young children, although persons of all ages can be affected. Worldwide, about 3-5 billion diarrheal episodes in children occur annually resulting in nearly 1 million deaths, especially from sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia like India.
Rotaviruses are transmitted by the fecal-oral route, progressing to and ultimately destroying the small intestine, though the stomach and colon are largely spared. Poor sanitation, characteristically a feature in children, makes them more susceptible.
Rotarix vaccine has been included under the national immunisation programme.
Symptoms set in abruptly, characterized by vomiting followed by watery diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal pain.
General sanitation is the first-line method to prevent infection. Hand washing must be promoted amongst children.
Administration of ORS and zinc to prevent dehydration is the main form of treatment.
Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is a thin transparent lining at the front of the eye and inner eyelids.
It is most closely associated with redness, itchiness, and watering of eyes. Swelling is also seen on the eyelid.
Also known as pink-eye, it particularly commonly affects children since it spreads via hand-to-eye contact as children rub their eyes frequently. Although, pinkeye can also spread by coughing and sneezing.
Pinkeye is mild and usually goes away on its own. Artificial tear drops ease dryness, and allergy medication keep inflammation in check
Parents are constantly worried for their children, and considering children generally have poor hygiene, this is perfectly understandable. Most childhood illnesses run their own course without big worries and often resolve on their own, or with mild medication.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and is it is often said that exposure to common infectious illnesses during childhood ensures a good immune response in the body – a sick child will probably grow up to be a healthy, immune adult.
Covid-19 has been spreading at a rapid rate in India targeting mostly younger people, observing the current scenario it becomes vital that parents take care of their children, their immunity, their hygiene, and overall health.
So, to all the parents – stay strong, and don’t lose hope.