Term time is germ time


COLD AND FLU - Credit: Archant

Back-to-school means a busy surgery for most GPs, but parents can do a lot to relieve their loved ones’ snotty symptoms, says Dr Matt Piccaver

For many parents across the land, the end of the summer holidays brings a period of relief.

Six long weeks spent keeping our loved ones occupied are now over. Trips to the seaside, washed out barbecues, and rainy days indoors are replaced with the routine of a new school year. The ever familiar refrain of ‘are we there yet?’ is now becoming a distant memory, replaced with cries of ‘are you getting up?’.

When I was a child, the new school term was often one of excitement. Being the nerdy type, I loved school. A new uniform, a pair of shoes, and if I was lucky, a trip to the stationers for a new pencil case and geometry set. Perhaps I should get out more.

September marks the start of a busy time for us in general practice – although that’s possibly the wrong way of phrasing it – and marks the start of an even busier time. Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, and what better way to spread contagion that to gather in close proximity for hours on end. Or school, as it’s otherwise known.

I see a surge in coughs and colds when the kids go back to school. When I first became a GP trainee, back in 2007, I was ill all the time. Thankfully, I’ve been covered in so much virus ridden mucus in my time that I seem to have developed a resistance – and I thought a career in medicine would be glamorous.

We get inundated with understandably worried parents, with their loved ones streaming snot, coughing, or complaining of earache or a sore throat. The good thing is, most children I meet like this are usually well, and need nothing more than affection, sympathy, and the odd bit of paracetamol.

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Most sore throats will settle in week or so. Simple pain relief is usually all that’s needed, but see your doctor if it drags on or your child is getting sicker. By that I mean struggling to drink. That said, children who are running around, putting jam on the cat are usually quite well.

Most coughs will settle within about three weeks. We should worry if there is a high fever or the child is short of breath. Children with asthma might be affected by catching a cold, but many parents of children known to have asthma will have an inkling that their child is getting sicker and take necessary action.

Earaches usually settle within about four days, and treatment is often nothing more than pain relief. If you notice pus or blood coming from an ear, or your child is getting sicker, again we need to see them.

Children will often develop a fever when they’re unwell, especially younger children. It’s part of their immune response to infection. Most infections don’t reproduce as well when the temperature is above normal (35.5 to 37.5 degrees C) and so our body does its best to fight the infection by boosting our body temperature. We aim to treat the child, not the fever. Gone are the days of tepid sponging and stripping them off. Normal amounts of clothes for comfort and a close eye are key.

Pharmacists are a great source of information on the management of minor illness, and are well worth paying a visit for advice on how to relieve symptoms. If you’re at all worried, get in touch with your GP, or call 111 out-of-hours.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and is no substitute for seeing your own doctor.

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