One of the core initiatives of the Florida Hospital partnership with Volusia County Schools is to reduce chronic absenteeism by keeping students healthy. There are many reasons your son or daughter might need to miss school, but we want to help keep them in class and ready to learn. This means providing better resources to schools and families.
We spoke with the chief medical officer at Florida Hospital New Smyrna, Dennis Hernandez, MD, who is board-certified in general pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine, to find out the common types of conditions that keep kids from being at their best in the classroom.
Keep Chronic Conditions in Check
Chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy can play a large part in absenteeism from school, but they don’t have to, if children take their medicine in the prescribed fashion. Maintaining ongoing treatments for chronic diseases is crucial for keeping your child healthy and in school.
“Asthma is the number one cause of absenteeism in U.S. schools and it’s due to lack of control,” explained Dr. Hernandez. “Asthma needs to be regularly medicated and controlled since it causes inflammation in the airways and can be dangerous and scary. Untreated or uncontrolled, it can lead to scarring of the lungs and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) later in life, which, in turn, reduces the lifespan and quality of life.”
Children with chronic diseases should have regular and easy access to their medication as prescribed by their pediatrician to reduce both long-term risks, as well as short-term problems that can arise and keep them out of school.
How Sick is Too Sick for School?
“When your child gets sick, the only thing you want is for them to feel better and to get back to their normal, happy lives,” said Dr. Hernandez. “But knowing when to keep them home from school and when to send them back can be difficult to discern as a parent. We don’t want kids going to school sick and infecting other children, but we also don’t want a child that could be in school to stay home unnecessarily, so parents really need to know what to look for and when to call their pediatrician.”
According to Dr. Hernandez, fevers have no simple rule to apply to every situation. He recommends watching for other signs and symptoms and calling your pediatrician before seeking treatment at the emergency room.
“E.R. visits are not only expensive and time-consuming for parents, but they’re often completely unnecessary and create a burden on an emergency department’s resources – resources that could be used to help another patient in crisis experiencing a true emergency,” explained Dr. Hernandez.
Conjunctivitis or Pink Eye
There are three types of conjunctivitis: allergic, viral and bacterial.
Allergic conjunctivitis is identifiable by red, irritated, watery eyes. While it’s typically in both eyes, it is possible to have the infection in one eye, if the allergen was rubbed into one eye but not the other. Allergic conjunctivitis can be easily treated with antihistamines.
Approximately 95 percent of conjunctivitis is viral. At first, it is typically found in one eye and will stay there unless it’s spread to the other by rubbing at the eyes. It is contagious: hands should be washed regularly, and, as much as possible, the eye should not be touched. Other symptoms include swelling of the conjunctiva (eyelid); a thick discharge from the eye; crustiness formed around the eye after waking or throughout the day; or if the eye is swollen shut. Viral conjunctivitis may also be accompanied by a fever. The only treatment is supportive care, which can include anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, warm compresses and time.
Bacterial conjunctivitis has all the same symptoms of viral conjunctivitis and is also contagious, so the same precautions should be taken. If your child’s conjunctivitis hasn’t gotten better after a few days of supportive care, call your pediatrician, as they may have bacterial conjunctivitis and need a prescription for antibiotic eye drops.
“Sore throats can be a symptom of so many things that it makes it hard to know exactly what to look for in every case,” said Dr. Hernandez. “Watch for other symptoms like fever, headache and muscle aches. It could be just allergies, so try an antihistamine first. If that doesn’t work, I recommend using an analgesic such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If symptoms persist, it may be a cold or the flu, which can be treated with basic supportive care, but it could also be strep throat.”
Strep throat is a contagious bacterial infection caused by the streptococcus bacterium. Symptoms can include a fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit; swollen lymph nodes in the neck; tiny red spots on the back of the roof of the mouth; inflamed and swollen tonsils, which may also have white patches on them; headache; and pain in the gut or vomiting.
If you think your child has strep throat, have them tested at either your pediatrician’s office or at a Florida Hospital Centra Care facility. If diagnosed with strep throat, your child will receive a prescription for an antibiotic.
“Earaches are generally caused by an infection, and if your child is complaining of having one, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician or visit an urgent care like Centra Care,” said Dr. Hernandez. “Your child may need ear drops or oral antibiotics, depending on the type of ear infection. There’s an external type, known as swimmer’s ear, and a middle-ear infection, which we call otitis media. Most of the time, it can be cleared up in a few days, but occasionally it may require the attention of an ear, nose and throat specialist.”
As part of the five-year, $2 million partnership with Volusia County Schools, Florida Hospital will help students access Florida Hospital eCare urgent care providers at the 36 schools with the highest rate of chronic absenteeism. Via the eCare app, families will receive a live and secure tele-health consultation for a range of urgent care issues, such as pink eye, coughs/colds/flu, minor injuries, allergies, urinary tract infections, and more.