Back to School Health Concerns

By Sara Hodon

As students prepare to hit the books for another school year, parents are busy reinforcing the proper hygiene habits kids need to fend off a number of ailments that strike the average classroom every year.

Almost like clockwork, Dr. Moshe Markowitz, pediatrician with ABC Family Pediatricians’ 17th Street office in Allentown, says that he sees a number of younger patients with the same complaints: “The common cold in the fall, influenza starting in October and November and lasting until early spring, and the occasional spike in strep [throat] in the winter and early spring. We also see some croup, which is common to five  and six year olds. That is diagnosed by a distinctive cough that is more like a bark.”

Contrary to the old folk belief that says being out in the cold without a hat or gloves will cause a cold, germs being passed from person to person do. Things like vitamin C tablets and zinc lozenges might help to slow the spread a bit, but as  Markowitz says, the best thing parents can do is to encourage their children to practice good old-fashioned personal hygiene, such as thorough hand washing and coughing into their elbow rather than their hands. Don’t discount those bottles of hand sanitizer used at schools and day cares throughout the Valley, either. “They are helpful for routine use if a person’s hands are clean,” he says, “but if your hands are dirty, you want to use regular soap and water.”  Markowitz also says that as a way to protect themselves, teachers should remind their students to practice good personal hygiene at school, too. Classrooms and playgrounds are perfect breeding grounds for cold and flu germs, especially after a quiet three-month summer break. “Kids are being exposed to new strains of viruses because they’re in close proximity,”  Markowitz addss. “It’s easier to spread it to others. That’s why there are more colds in the fall and winter.” This can lead to more absenteeism during the school year, but as most teachers will agree, it’s better to keep the child at home rather than send him or her to school and spread their sickness to  classmates.

Besides the common cold and flu, parents of children with existing conditions need to get them ready, also. “If a child has asthma, make sure their asthma care is in place, especially if they have allergy-induced asthma,”  Markowitz says. “These kids are okay in the summer, but there are more allergens in the fall and winter, so parents should take care of the asthma and the allergy-induced type of asthma especially.” Most districts have a policy in place that requires any medication to be kept with the school nurse.

A new school year means the start of fall sports season, and  Markowitz advises student athletes to start their preparation well before the first day, and not just with conditioning, training, and securing equipment. “They should get school physicals to make sure they’re in good shape,”  Markowitz says. “Be sure to go in enough time to get ready for the sport—get in before the season begins so you’re not rushing during those first days of school.” Markowitz adds that parents of children with learning disabilities should speak with the school well in advance. “For things like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and dyslexia, if it’s suspected by a parent but not cognitively diagnosed, they should communicate with the school to have any accommodations made.”  Whether the student simply needs more time to take a test or providing specially purchased equipment that could take days or weeks to install, the parents and school administrators should spend the summer working out the details.

The start of a new school year is a busy time for everyone—parents, teachers, and students—but by planning ahead, working together, and sticking to a timeline, the stressors of the first few weeks can be greatly reduced.

Dr. Moshe Markowitz, Pediatrician

ABC Family Pediatricians (17th St. Office)
401 N. 17th St.
Allentown, PA 18104

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