Prepare kids for illness prevention

Dr. Karen Williams

From ticks to gluten-free eating, Dr. Karen Williams answers reader questions

Ticks were a widespread problem this summer because of the dry weather, what’s the first thing to keep in mind after a tick bite?

We have been seeing an increase in tick-borne disease, such as Lyme disease, but it’s important to remember that most ticks do not carry disease. You should check for ticks on yourself and your children whenever you have been out near the woods, hiking, camping or near a lot of brush. If you notice a tick, remove it as soon as possible and wash the area with warm, soapy water. The sooner a tick is removed the less likely it is to spread disease. You should call your doctor if you develop flu-like symptoms, a sore at the site of the bite or any rash.

With the kids back in school, what should I know about lice?

First and foremost it is important to remember that having head lice has nothing to do with cleanliness. Actually, lice can attach more easily to clean hair than to dirty hair. While most people get squeamish and itchy with just the thought of lice, outbreaks in elementary schools are very common and if your child comes home with lice it is nothing to be ashamed of. You can help prevent the spread of lice by reminding your children not to share hats, helmets, combs, brushes or even headphones. Eradicating lice can be frustrating and challenging but just follow the instructions on the medication and stick with it. Finally, remember that head lice do no spread any other diseases.

For more Health 

I recently began an exercise regimen that keeps me on my feet, walking and jogging. What should I do to guard against blisters and maintain healthy feet?

The most important thing you can do to maintain healthy feet is to have the right equipment. First, I recommend getting professionally fit for the proper shoes for the activity you are doing. Jogging stresses the feet differently than walking. Also, you cannot base the size of your running or walking shoes on the street shoes you wear. Often, you will need a slightly larger size for a proper fit with exercise. Moisture-wicking socks also can protect the feet from hot spots and blisters. As with any exercise program it’s important to start slowly and gradually increase your activity. Blisters and other foot problems may be a sign that you did too much too soon.

Recent studies say that organic foods aren’t any healthier than ‘regular’ foods, should I still try to eat as organic as possible?

The jury is still out on this subject. What the most recent study shows is that while organic foods have fewer pesticides and some organic food are higher in certain nutrients there is insufficient evidence to show that the health benefits are greater. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t eat organically grown produce. I’m a big fan of trying to buy local produce. It’s much fresher and usually tastes better! Anyone who has had shortcake with local strawberries or asparagus right out of the garden can attest to that. However, I wouldn’t recommend limiting your fruits and vegetables to only organically grown products if it means eating fewer of them. Try to balance it and maintain a healthy five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily.

School has started. What should I remind my children of to make sure they aren’t the ones coming home sick?

We certainly do see an increase in viruses and illness at the beginning of school, especially in the younger children. There really is no secret to keeping kids healthy during school. Good hygiene and hand washing is paramount in preventing these illnesses. Ensuring that children get adequate sleep and a balanced diet, which includes a nutritious breakfast daily, will help keep them healthy and disease free. It is also important to follow the guidelines set forth by the school regarding illness. If your child has a fever they need to stay home. This will ensure that the rest of the class is not exposed.

I read that teens should be getting as much as 10 hours of sleep a night, is that much sleep recommended?

Absolutely! Very few teenagers actually get enough sleep these days. Between homework, sports, music programs, TV, video games and social networking, teens are staying up later and getting fewer hours of sleep. The only time our bodies require more sleep than the teen years is during infancy. A teenager’s body is rapidly developing both physically and intellectually and to optimize this growth, nine to 10 hours of sleep a night is required. Studies confirm that if you get an extra hour or two of sleep you will retain more information than if you try to cram in more studying. I frequently see teens in the office complaining of fatigue. Usually that doesn’t mean that your high school student is anemic or has a thyroid problem, but rather they need more sleep.

Gluten-free eating is said to help people feel less sluggish and improve overall health, but what are the downsides to being G-free if you don’t medically have to be?

If you follow a completely gluten-free diet you may be lacking some nutrients such as iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folate. Additionally, many people on a gluten-free diet consume inadequate amounts of fiber and this may lead to constipation. Our digestive tract contains beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium that help the immune system and these bacteria may be decreased if you are gluten-free. Being completely gluten-free is time consuming and can be very expensive, so unless it is medically necessary everyone should try to eat a diet balanced with lean proteins, healthy grains, fruits and vegetable.

Dr. Karen Williams is board-certified in family medicine. She is owns Complete Family Care & Laser Center in Watertown where she and her staff provide comprehensive health care for the entire family. Contact her office at 18983 U.S. Route 11, 782-0059. This column is for informational use only and is not intended as medical advice or primary care. See a licensed health care provider to address any health concerns.