This time of year, there are four words no parent wants to hear: “I don’t feel well.”
For starters, if your child has a real vomiting illness, then they should stay home until they’ve been vomit-free for about 24 hours. Some kids may just gag on medicine or throw up after a coughing spell, and don’t necessarily need to stay home after that. If they have a stomach bug, however, keep them at home.
The same goes for diarrhea. If your child simply has soft stools from taking a medication like an antibiotic, and it’s unlikely contagious, then they don’t need to stay home. On the other hand, you should keep them at home if they have watery diarrhea or really loose stools. These symptoms are often from a stomach bug, which is highly contagious.
Any time your child has a fever, they should stay home from school. Pediatricians usually consider a fever a temperature of 100.5 or greater. Although Tylenol or Motrin might bring their fever down momentarily, it is still not a good idea to send them to school because your child is still contagious. They should only return to school when they are fever-free, and off of all fever-reducing medications for 24 hours.
Sore throats can be a symptom of strep, but it’s more likely due to the common cold or cold dry air in the mornings. If your child has a sore throat with a fever or rash or has been diagnosed with strep, keep them at home for at least 24 hours on antibiotics before returning to school. If your child has a mild sore throat with cold symptoms but isn’t really that sick, it’s probably okay to send them in.
There are some new recommendations about strep throat that were just issued recently. Patients who get strep a lot don’t necessarily need to have their tonsils removed. The second recommendation warned doctors about over-diagnosing strep throat. Of the 15 million people who visit doctors for sore throats each year, only 5 percent of adults and 20 percent of kids actually have strep throat. The message to parents out there is this: most sore throats should not be treated with antibiotics, so please don’t beg your doctor for them unless strep has been confirmed in your child.
Colds can be a major gray area for parents. Typically, it’s okay to send your child off to school with a mild sore throat, a cough, or a stuffy/runny nose – even if mucus is green. If your child can’t stop coughing or they don’t look well, however, keep them home to rest or take them to the pediatrician. We can’t keep every child with a cold out of school or half the kids would be absent from now until May.
Conjunctivitis, also known as Pinkeye, is often contagious. Sometimes it is due to a bacterium, and many times a cold virus. Not all conjunctivitis requires bacterial ointment. If it does, make sure your child has been on the antibiotic ointment for at least 24 hours before sending them back to school.
Head lice is also tricky because there is no easy remedy and even though it’s a nuisance, it’s not dangerous. Check to see whether your school has a “no nit” policy where kids can’t go to school with the eggs that lead to head lice. Children with head lice should be treated- and once they are, they can attend school or child care as usual. To be safe, children should not share combs, hair brushes, caps, hats, or hair ornaments.
Ferris Bueller isn’t the only kid who ever faked it. It’s estimated that about 30 percent of children who come through a school nurse’s door are there for stress from bullying, other social problems and test anxiety. If the symptoms are vague, come and go or move from one body part to another they may be faking. Television may also be a good indicator, as kids who are truly sick tend to doze off while watching. Those who remain glued o the set may be up to something.
So, what should you do with a faker? Don’t reinforce sick behavior by making staying at home way more fun than going to school. Be firm and reassure children that if they become sicker during the day, the teachers can always call you to come get them.
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