Common Back-to-School Illnesses

A few weeks into the school year, most kids have gotten over those back-to-school blues. But as students get back into the swing of things, there’s more they might bring home than projects and progress reports. Germs are one of the top things students share in school (yep, even more than social posts), and classrooms are plagued with sniffles and sneezes. It’s not uncommon for students to be sick multiple times in a given school year, especially during fall and winter.

But there’s no need to put your child in a bubble. Read on to learn about the common classroom illnesses your kids might come home with this year, and how to best care for them.

1. The Common Cold

The common cold is a respiratory illness usually caused by rhinoviruses. Most children will have between 6 and 8 colds per year. The illness is spread by inhaling airborne droplets or having direct contact with someone who is infected.

Symptoms are usually mild and can include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat (mild)
  • Coughing

There is no cure for the common cold. Most children recover easily with rest and fluids. Smart health practices can help you keep a cold at bay.

2. Strep Throat

There’s a sore throat, and then there’s strep throat. Strep throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. It is highly contagious and spreads easily through schools. Kids can get strep by breathing in airborne droplets, touching a surface where they are present, or by sharing food or drink with a sick classmate.

Symptoms usually begin 2-5 days after exposure and can include:

  • Sudden and severe sore throat
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Fever
  • Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • Headache
  • Rash

Strep throat must be diagnosed by a doctor and treated with antibiotics. Always finish the full course of antibiotics, even if your child is feeling better.

3. Influenza (Flu)

What most of us know as the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It is most common during the time between October and May (most of the school year). The flu spreads mainly through contact with droplets made when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk.

Flu symptoms come on suddenly and can range from mild to severe:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Severe Fatigue
  • Headache

Most children recover from the flu within 1-2 weeks with proper care. Treatment consists of rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Getting the annual influenza vaccine is the best way to prevent flu infection.

4. Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Pink Eye occurs when the clear lining (conjunctiva) around the eyeball becomes infected or inflamed. Pink eye can be caused by a virus or bacteria, and both forms are highly contagious. It is spread through direct or indirect contact with liquid that drains from an infected eye.

Symptoms include:

  • Pink or red appearance of the eye
  • Itching or discomfort in the eye (usually a “gritty” feeling)
  • Discharge from one or both eyes that forms a crust overnight
  • Tearing

Viral conjunctivitis will heal on its own in a few days. Bacterial conjunctivitis can cause permanent eye damage and should be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. A doctor can diagnose the cause of your child’s pink eye infection.

5. Covid-19

Covid-19 is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Like other respiratory illnesses, it is spread by inhaling airborne droplets made by a sick person, touching contaminated surfaces, or sharing food or drink. Covid outbreaks are common and spread quickly through schools and communities.

Symptoms range from mild to severe and can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of taste or smell

Most cases are mild and can be treated at home with rest and fluids. Severe cases may require hospitalization. Vaccination is recommended for prevention.

When to Visit a Doctor:

While many of these illnesses can be treated at home with proper care and over-the-counter medications, it’s important to recognize when professional medical attention is needed. Always visit a doctor if:

  • Symptoms are severe or persistent.
  • There’s difficulty breathing or chest pain.
  • There are signs of dehydration.
  • An illness doesn’t improve after several days or worsens.

Being knowledgeable and vigilant can help ensure your child’s health throughout the school year. And remember, the team at Urgent Care of Fairhope is always here to provide guidance and care when you need it most. If your student is feeling sick, visit our Fairhope walk-in clinic six days per week to receive fast and convenient care close to home.

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