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Most people recognize winter as cold and flu season, spring as allergy season, and fall as back-to-school strep throat and cold season. What about summer? Is this the season when illnesses take a vacation too and leave our kids alone for a few months? That would be nice! There are, unfortunately, several very common illnesses passed around in the summertime that flood our pediatric office with sick children and worried parents.
Here is a discussion on the most common summertime illnesses, how to treat them, how to avoid them, when to worry, and when not to worry. They include the summer "flu" (fever with or without headache and sore throat), diarrhea, viral meningitis, contact rashes (poison ivy), red eyes, swimmer's ear and sunburn.
THE SUMMER FLU VIRUS - mysterious fevers and aches
Probably the most common illness we see during the summer is fever with no other symptoms except general aches and pains. Whereas most parents expect some fever when their child is going through a bad cold or the wintertime flu, many parents are naturally worried when their children come down with high fevers and aches with no other symptoms.
Don't worry! This mysterious fever is probably the summer flu virus. It will run its course in a few days without the need for any antibiotics.
Main symptoms of the summer flu virus include:
Treating the symptoms
When NOT to worry - don't call the doctor
A general guideline for this illness is that if your child is feeling and acting well when the fever is down, then you can probably rest assured that there is nothing to worry about. Even if your child looks terrible when the fever is high, the key is how he looks when the fever and aches are under control. Expect it to run its course in two to five days. If your child is doing fairly well, you don't need to see your doctor. If the fever runs more than three days, a doctor's visit is advised just to make sure.
Worried about strep throat? It is often difficult to tell if you have strep throat (treatable with antibiotics) or have a severe sore throat as part of this virus. Click here to read how to tell the difference.
When to worry - CALL YOUR DOCTOR
If your child is acting lethargic and looks terrible even when the fever is down, you should take your child to the doctor that day. If your child is vomiting (more than just a few times) and/or has severe neck pain (where the back of the neck, not the throat in front, is painful and so stiff your child won't look down), this could mean he has meningitis. You should see or page your doctor right away. See our longer discussion below on meningitis if your child has the vomiting and neck pain symptoms.
This occurs when a normal cold or sore throat virus spreads into the lining of the brain or spinal cord, causing an infection there. It is extremely rare, as most such viruses run their course through our bodies without spreading to the brain. Viral meningitis is not treatable with antibiotics. Bacterial meningitis, on the other hand, is treatable. It is viral meningitis, however, that seems most prevalent during this summer season. Bacterial meningitis does not occur during any particular season.
Here are the five main symptoms of meningitis:
How to tell if your child may have meningitis.
During the summertime we see many cases of diarrhea in our office. It can range from mild to severe and can last just a few days up to several weeks.
Don't worry! Diarrhea is usually caused by a virus (not treatable with antibiotics). It almost never warrants a trip to the ER or an urgent page to the doctor. It usually doesn't even need to be evaluated in your doctor's office.
Click here for a detailed discussion and to learn about how to treat it, when to worry, and how long you can expect it to last.
Poison ivy is probably the most well known example of this. It basically refers to any rash that breaks out on your skin from any irritating substance that you come into contact with.
This occurs mostly in the summer for two reasons:
This type of rash is treated with over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1%, calamine lotion, and benadryl liquid for severe itching. Stronger prescription creams can be used if needed.
You can prevent this type of rash by applying a lotion to the skin prior to adventuring, and then rinsing the skin after returning home, with a special lotion available at sporting goods stores. One such brand is Tech-Nu, but any brand should work.
There are many different causes of red eyes, but the one we see mostly during the summer is simple chemical irritation of the whites of the eyes. This usually occurs from pool water, but can also be from lakes or oceans. It is a harmless, usually painless redness. There is no discharge, and usually no stinging or itching.
This can persist for weeks, and looks a lot worse than it really is. You can treat it by simply flushing the eyes out with saline eye drops after swimming. It is ok to continue swimming, but doing so may prolong the redness (which, again, is harmless).
If you have any eye discharge, burning, itching, or pain, click here for a complete discussion on pink eye or conjunctivitis.
This is an infection in the skin of the ear canal, similar to an infection anywhere else on the skin such as from a scrape or a bite. It is different from an ear infection, which occurs in the middle ear space behind the eardrum. Swimmer's ear infection occurs external to the ear drum in the ear canal.
When water gets stuck in the ear canal after swimming or bathing, the water can irritate the skin of the ear canal. This irritated skin then gets invaded by bacteria. This infection will fester until it builds up enough to cause pain. This can occur over a few hours, or can take several days.
Lake water is the most likely to cause an infection, followed by ocean water, bath water, then pool water.
Clues that your child has swimmer's ear include:
Click here for a complete discussion to learn how to PREVENT swimmer's ear.
We won't go into a full discussion here, but just a simple reminder. Use sunscreen regularly, wear hats and sunglasses, and try to avoid playing outside in just a bathing suit between the hours of 10 am to 2 pm (the time when the sun's rays are the strongest).
Click here for more information on sun protection.
Click here to read how to treat sunburns.