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Daily Dose

Food Allergies at Halloween

1:30 to read

Halloween is just around the corner and for children with food allergies or sensitivities it is sometimes challenging to go trick or treating.  In the United States 1 in 13 children has a food allergy and for some children even the tiniest bit of their allergen can cause a severe reaction!!

So…have you heard about the Teal Pumpkin Project? It was introduced several years ago to enable children with food allergies to enjoy a fun and safe trick or treating experience….with no fear of being exposed to allergens.  

Nuts, milk, soy, wheat and egg are a few of the most common allergens in children  and adults). So many Halloween candies may contain many of these ingredients, and many of the miniature versions of popular candy that is given out on Halloween may not be labelled as to their ingredients. At times the “snack” size treat may even contain a different ingredient than the usual size candy bar.  Even with diligence it may be difficult for parents to determine if the candy in question is safe.

The Teal Pumpkin Project promotes having non-food treats available for children with food allergies. By putting a teal colored pumpkin on your front porch along with the traditional pumpkins and jack o lanterns, you let families know that you have special treats for a food allergic child, or for any child where candy may present a problem. In this way trick-or-treating is inclusive for everyone and the teal pumpkin ( or a poster with a teal pumpkin ) is an easy way for kids and parents to spot the houses that are participating.

Children love to get stickers, glow sticks, pencils, chalk and small toys are all suitable options for kids who have food allergies or intolerances, or for any child who prefers not to have candy. Kids get so much candy you may be the hit of the block by having a different basket for them to choose from.

Remember, if you are getting a food item for another child in your family to make sure that all candy has been unopened and to avoid choking hazards (like nuts and popcorn) for younger children

Be safe, have fun and look for a teal pumpkin….I am going to go buy some spray paint to turn one of my orange pumpkins into blue!!!  Fun project for a family and neighborhood to do together - a block of teal pumpkins!


Daily Dose

Good Grades Pill

1.15 to read

There is a lot of pressure placed on students to succeed and many of them are turning to what teens call the “good grade pill”.  What is it?  Prescription stimulants that are commonly used to treat children with ADHD.  Teens that have not been diagnosed with ADHD have figured out that with the help of these drugs, they can focus and improve their grades.  

I see a lot of kids who have attentional issues and I evaluate and treat children for ADHD. With that being said, I also spend a great deal of time with each family looking at their child’s history, report cards, teacher comments, educational testing and subjective ADHD rating scales. 

While many families would like it if I just “wrote a script for a stimulant”, I feel it is my job to try and determine to the best of my ability, which children really fit the diagnosis of ADHD. (There are specific criteria for diagnosing ADHD). 

But in the last 3-5 years I personally have seen more and more teenage patients coming to me with complaints of “having ADHD”. These are successful teens who are now in competitive schools. 

In most of the cases there have never been any previous complaints of difficulty with focusing or inattentiveness. All are typically A and B students but are now having to work harder to keep their grades up, and to also keep up all of their extracurricular activities. They too all want to go to “great colleges” and their parents expect that of them as well. 

When I see these teens, I point out to them that there has never been mention of school difficulties throughout their elementary and middle school years. I also tell them that ADHD symptoms by definition are typically evident by the time a child is 7 years of age, and often earlier.  So what do you do? I don’t take out the script pad. 

I believe that stimulant medications are useful when used appropriately.  I am also well aware that these drugs are overprescribed and are also being abused. I have had parents (and teens) be quite upset with me when I decline to write a script for stimulant medication for their teen.  

I think that this problem is growing and (we) parents need to stop pressuring our children and (we) doctors need to be vigilant in deciding when stimulant medications are appropriate. 

It is a slippery slope, but the number of teens obtaining stimulants illegally is on the rise.  Why? They hear that this is a quick fix to getting good grades. It may help their grades for the short term, but what does their long term future look like? 

That's your daily dose for today. We'll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Mumps Outbreak!

1:30 to read

The latest infectious disease outbreak is in the Boston area where several colleges have reported cases of mumps. Mumps is a viral illness that causes swelling of the salivary glands as well as other symptoms of fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headache.    Harvard University has been hit the hardest and has now documented over 40 cases this spring.  Boston is a city with numerous colleges all in close proximity, and there are documented mumps cases at Boston University, University of Massachusetts  and Tufts as well.  These Boston area colleges are all in close proximity and are merely a walk, bike or train ride away from one another, so these students, while attending different universities may all co-mingle at parties and athletic events.

Mumps is spread via saliva (think kissing), or from sharing food, as well as via respiratory droplets being spread after coughing or sneezing. It may also be spread via contaminated surfaces that will harbor the virus. People may already be spreading the virus for  2 days before symptoms appear and may be contagious for up to 5 days after their salivary glands appear swollen….so in other words there is a long period of contagion where the virus may inadvertently be spread. It may also take up to 2-3 weeks after exposure before you come down with mumps.

All of the students who have come down with mumps had been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella).  Unfortunately, the mumps vaccine is only about 88% effective in preventing the disease. Despite the fact that children get two doses of vaccine at the age of 1 and again at 4 or 5 years….there may be some waning of protection over time. This  may also contribute to the virus’s predilection for young adults in close quarters on college campuses. Something like the perfect infectious disease storm!

In the meantime there are some studies being undertaken to see if adolescents should receive a 3rd dose of the vaccine, but the results of the study are over a year away.

In the meantime, be alert for symptoms compatible with mumps and make sure to isolate yourself from others if you are sick.  Harvard is isolating all of the patients with mumps for 5 days….which could mean that some students might even miss commencement.  Doctors at Harvard and other schools with cases of mumps are still on the watch for more cases …stay tuned.





Daily Dose

Tummy Aches

1:30 to read

I am getting a lot of phone calls and texts with concerns about  tummy aches. I have even started seeing patients in the office with complaints of “my tummy hurts”, and we are just in the first week of school. I know that school nurses are dealing with this common complaint as well.   Amazingly, I don’t see very many complaints of tummy aches during the “lazy days of summer”…but once school starts they seem to become more prevalent.

Don’t get me wrong…while the tummy aches are real and painful, they are usually not due to anything serious.  In many cases I see,  the abdominal discomfort may be due to a bit of anxiety and stress that often comes as children get back into the classroom.  While the child may not be aware of “stress”,  their body does sense it and the gut responds with abdominal pain. 

The children that I am already seeing are all healthy and growing well. They do not appear to be “ill” when I see them, but will complain that their tummy hurts. When I have them point to where the pain is, they typically point right around their belly button (periumbilical).  If asked to point to the one place where it “hurts the most”  they typically still cannot localize it…it’s just all over! Having generalized pain is typically a good sign, rather than having point tenderness in one area.  Upon further questioning they do not have a fever, have not had vomiting or diarrhea, DO NOT wake up in the middle of the night with abdominal pain and often cannot remember if they “pooped“ today or yesterday but usually swear that their “poop” is “normal” . (I am not always sure about that - stool history in kids is quite hit and miss!) 

A few of the children say that eating makes their tummy ache worse while others report it feels better if they eat. They typically are not having issues with a specific food.  (It also depends what they are given to eat - often they will eat their favorite food if given the opportunity).  

For some of the children the pain is “bad enough” that they come home from school, but once home their parents report that after an hour or so they seem better.  Other children stay in school, but the minute a parent picks them up they start saying “my tummy hurt all day at school”!  

I remember that one of my sons often had tummy aches during the school year and we were talking about it the other night (he is now an adult).  He says he remembers being worried about school and “hiding” in the morning when it was time to go to school (I would be looking all over for him as his older brother was already out the door, and anxious that he would not get to school on time,  while I had the younger brother on my hip as I searched the house).   Talk about getting a stomach ache…mine was in knots by the time I would get to work.  It would only be several hours later when I would get the phone call from the school nurse that he was there with a tummy ache.  He now says that he remembers that by the time he was 8 years old it all just changed and it went away. 

Many times all it takes is a little reassurance that the tummy ache is not serious. I tell the children that everything on their exam is normal which is a good thing. Sometimes it seems to help a tummy ache if I prescribe the child some extra fiber and maybe a Tums  a good source of calcium too). Who knows if it is placebo effect… but just by doing something they feel a bit of relief. The one thing I do know…they need to keep going to school and it usually gets better once they are settled back into a school routine.  


Daily Dose


1:30 to read

Fall is here and winter is just around the corner, which will usher in another “sick season”. I am already thinking about illness as I just finished reading a JAMA article about the overuse of antibiotics.  Did you know that the CDC estimates that “30% of antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. are unnecessary”? 

The CDC reported that the majority of these misused antibiotics were prescribed for viral upper respiratory infections including the common cold, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections.  Which gets me back to “sick season” and the busy pediatric office.

Parents frequently bring their child in for one of the many viral upper respiratory infections that a child has, especially in the first 5 years of life, and “assume” that they will receive an antibiotic. In fact, I am still amazed that with all of the news about “superbugs” and emerging antibiotic resistance, some parents continue to “push” for a antibiotic because their child has had a fever, cough and runny nose for several days.  

The head of the CDC recently stated, “antibiotics are lifesaving drugs and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use, we will lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life threatening infections”.  In other words, we doctors need to be very judicious when deciding to prescribe an antibiotic and patients need to ask questions as to the necessity for taking an antibiotic.  It seems much too often I hear a parent say to me, “I am sick as well, so I went to the doctor who gave me an antibiotic for my cough and congestion, why aren’t you going to give an antibiotic to my child?”.  They often follow this statement with, “I felt so much better after being on an antibiotic for several days….”, but I actually think many of them felt better as they were getting better on their own and not due to the antibiotic.

In this JAMA article it was noted that “prescribing rates were highest in children age 2 years and younger. (who also get the most viral URI’s in a year) . There were also distinctions in prescribing practices by region of the country with the West having a lower rate of antibiotic prescribing than the South. 

So…looking forward to “sick season” I may be quoting this summer JAMA article when I once again explain to a parent, or a child….that their fever, cough and cold is due to a virus and that there is not the need for an antibiotic. In fact, a parent might want to boast, “my child has never been on an antibiotic”...which is a good thing. Save the prescription for a time when it is really warranted, and at the same time “pay it forward” by helping to prevent even more antibiotic resistance in this country.

Daily Dose

How to Treat Croup

1.15 to read

Now that the weather seems to change daily, croup season is here. Have you heard the sounds of raspy, throaty voices in your house lately? This "noise" is ushering in croup season! Croup is an infection that causes swelling of the larynx (vocal box) and trachea (windpipe) that in turn makes the airway just beneath the vocal cords become swollen and narrow. When you have swelling and narrowing of the airway breathing becomes more difficult and noisy and the sound that is made, almost like that of a seal barking, is called being “croupy”. Croup is quite common in young children, but the sound the emanates from that child when they cough, can be scary and concerning for both parent and child. Children are most likely to get croup between the ages of six months and three years. As a child gets older croup is not as common as the trachea gets larger with age and therefore the swelling does not cause as much compromise. When you awaken in the middle of the night to hear your child “barking” in the next room you need to know what to do. Most croup is caused by a common virus, so croup is not treated with antibiotics. The mainstay for the treatment of croup is try and calm you child, as they may be scared both from the tight feeling in their chest, as well as the sound that is made when they are breathing and coughing. The best treatment for croup seems to be taking your child into the bathroom and turning the shower on hot. Let the steam from the hot water fill the room and sit in there and read a book or two to your child. Typically within five to 10 minutes (before the hot water runs out) the moist hot air should help your child’s breathing. They may still have the barking, croupy cough, but they should be more comfortable and will not look like they are having trouble breathing. If the moist steam does not work, and it is a cool fall night, go outside. That is right, taking your “croupy” child from the moist heat in the bathroom, outside to cool night air may also help open their airways. If your child is showing signs of respiratory distress, with color change with coughing (turning blue while coughing, red is always good), is retracting (using their chest muscles between the ribs to help them breath), is grunting with each breath, or seems quite anxious and having trouble breathing you should call for emergency help. If a child is having real difficulty breathing they may be admitted to the hospital to have supplemental oxygen or breathing treatments. Steroids have also been helpful when used for the correct patient population. Steroids may be used in both an outpatient and inpatient setting. Steroids help to reduce inflammation in the trachea and the symptoms lessen over several days. Steroids used in a short burst are not harmful to your child, and are indicated in a child who may have mild respiratory distress due their croup symptoms. Your child may have symptoms of croup for several days, and for some reason they always seem to be worse at night. Put your child to bed with a cool mist humidifier in their room for the next several nights, this will also help to provide moisture to their airway. It is not uncommon for some children to seem more “prone to croup” and may get it recurrently all fall and winter. Have the humidifier handy and in working order! That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow. Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

Baby's First Foods

1:30 to read

Have you heard of “baby led weaning” (BLW)? Many of my patients who have infants that are ready to start “solid foods”, also called complementary foods, have questions about this method. Most babies begin eating foods along with breast milk or formula somewhere around 5 - 6 months of age.  So BLW is not really “weaning”,  as your infant will continue to have breast milk or formula in conjunction with foods…so this really should more aptly be named “baby self feeding”. 

In this method you never offer your baby “mush” or pureed foods, but rather offer them foods from the table.   While I am a huge advocate of self feeding (old term is finger feeding), I also think that early on offering a baby “mushy” food on a spoon is an important milestone. In fact, for most babies at 5 -6 months, it is difficult to pick up a small piece of food to self feed as the pincer grasp has not developed. So, a baby is trying to get food to their mouths by cupping it or hoping it sticks to their hand while pushing pieces around their tray. Some parents will put the food into their baby’s hand.  But, by 8-ish months most babies have developed their pincer grasp and the finger feeding should be preferred.  

Parents are also concerned about starting solid foods and the possibility of choking.  I am always discussing how to make sure that your child avoids choking hazards with foods. In other words, no whole grapes, or hot dogs, or popcorn or chunks of meat.   Other hazards are raw carrots, apples, celery and any “hard” food that your baby might be able to bite a chunk of and then choke. But, if you cook the carrots and then cut them in small bites they are easily handled by a baby who is self feeding.  It is really all about the consistency of the food as once your baby has lower teeth they can easily bite/pry off a big “chunk” of food that could lead to a choking hazard.

Interestingly, there was a recent study that looked at the incidence of choking in children who started with self feeding vs those fed traditionally with pureed foods from a spoon. In this study of about 200 children between 6 - 8 months of age the incidence of choking was similar, while there were more gagging events in the BLW group.  Fortunately, “the choking events resolved on their own”. Gagging is quite different than choking. Some children will gag on pureed foods just due to texture issues. 

I am an advocate of what I am going to call parent led feeding followed by early self feeding of appropriate foods. By the time a child is 9 months of age they should be able to finger feeding the majority of their meals. But there are some foods that are just not conducive to finger feeding at all….yogurt, apple sauce, puddings…and they will be spoon fed until your child is capable of using a spoon which is anywhere from 12 -18 months.   But as a reminder, whenever you offer your child a finger food you should remember two things, #1 is the piece small enough that my child cannot choke and #2 is the food cooked well enough to not pose a choking hazard.  

Several years ago there was a 1 year old in our practice who was given a piece of an apple to chew on… she bit off a chunk of the apple, aspirated and died. It was a terrible accident.  I will never forget that….and re-iterate to all of my patients…a pork chop, or chicken leg or any number of foods can become a choking hazard if your child bites off a chunk. Children really don’t chew until they are around 2 years, they just bite and try to swallow so I pay a great deal of attention to what foods they are offered.


Old school and new school…the combo seems to make sense to me. 

Daily Dose

Over The Counter Products

1:30 to read

So, if you have read my daily doses you are aware that my “news watching” comes from morning TV while I am getting ready for work!!  I often find myself talking to the TV, especially when it is a medical segment which includes pediatrics.  While I am excited that morning TV is covering health topics, some of the information may be a bit “misguided” when a pediatrician is not the one discussing a pediatric topic.

I “heard” another example of this the other morning when the morning shows were discussing the “top pharmacist picks for over the counter products”.  It seems they surveyed pharmacists  and then compiled a list of “favorite” name brand OTC products in numerous categories - I don’t  think there was much science behind this. At any rate, we all have our “favorite” go to “OTC” products which for one reason or another we prefer. Does that actually mean they are better?

So, here are a few that I had issue with:

Allergy medications: They picked Claritin, but why not Zyrtec or Allegra?  They are all second generation anti-histamines and there is not a great deal of data that one is better than another. If push came to shove and I could only pick one antihistamine it would be Benadryl (diphenhydramine) - despite its sedating properties it is still a great drug.

Topical antibacterial medication: They picked neosporin and I would pick polysporin. Neosporin contains neomycin which may cause an allergic contact reaction. Other than neomycin they are quite similar and both contain topical lidocaine for pain relief.  Guess what -  they are made by the same company!!  

Pain relief:  They picked Advil, but why not Motrin or generic ibuprofen.  I am frugal and buy whatever is on sale, same drug.  I always remind parents of this as sometimes they get confused and say, “Advil didn’t work so I gave them Motrin” double dosing them with same drug. Be careful.

GI complaints:  Pharmacists picked Pepto-Bismol. I do not recommend Pepto-Bismol to  children as it contains  bismuth subsalicylate which is related to aspirin and has been associated with Reye’s Syndrome.  The bottle is labelled “do not use under the age of 12 years” due to this concern, but parents may not read the fine print. There is a Children’s Pepto that contains only calcium carbonate and may be given to children as young as 2 years….really important to read the labels as there are many choices with similar names.

Lip balm: Their choice was Carmex. I do not recommend lip balm/gloss that contains menthol or camphor as it may actually damage the lips and cause more drying…so you apply more then it is a vicious cycle.  You want to use lip balm with bees wax or petrolatum and no fragrance. I like Aquaphor, Burt’s Bees and Vaseline.  

Formula: Their choice was Enfamil.  I recommend any of the formula brands including Simliac and Gerber as well as some Organic Formulas if my patients desire.  I don’t know why they would pick only one brand…no data on that either.

Sunscreen:  Their choice Neutrogena, which I also love. They make good products that are hypoallergenic and PABA free, and they have many different vehicles (spray, lotion, stick) to choose from. I am also a fan of Cerave products and they now have sunscreen for babies.  But the most important fact is to use a sunscreen of any brand with an SPF of at least 30 and one that contains zinc or titanium dioxide and no PABA or oxybenzone. 

Those are just a few of my comments and favorites.


Daily Dose

Preschool Nutrition Can Be Challenging

1.30 to read

Does your child eat three meals a day with healthy snacks along the way? I often find myself talking to parents about establishing healthy eating habits especially when you have a preschooler. Preschool children, specifically the two to five-year-old set are notoriously picky eaters, and parents need to recognize that this is developmentally appropriate, although frustrating for parents.

This is an appropriate time to begin teaching children the importance of healthy eating habits to encourage a lifetime of good health and prevent obesity. A good place to start to get information is “MyPyramid for Preschoolers”, a website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This website not only covers what your children should be eating, but also is full of good advice on handling picky eaters, how to monitor your child’s growth and ideas to encourage physical activity.

The website encourages parents to lead by example and let your children see you eating a wide array of foods including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains throughout the day. There are ideas for healthy snacks that can be eaten on the run, as you get back into carpools and after school activities. Even the toddler set is busy after school!

Remember: do not let food choices become a battle or an issue. Do not make negative food comments around your children, and keep trying new things. It may take up to 20 attempts or more before your child will try something new, but if you don’t keep trying you will never know if they might really like broccoli.

Also, no “yucky faces” for the adults and older children while at the table and eating their meal. That will only discourage your toddler from trying unfamiliar foods. Put on that happy face, even if it is not your favorite food, it might be your child’s.

The most important message is to make mealtime and snack time pleasant and healthy. Even a toddler can help with planning and preparing a meal. This website is really quite good and interactive as you can enter your child’s first name, age, gender and typical amount of activity and the site will generate a plan just for your child! Can’t be easier than that.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.



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Keeping it fun for kids with food allergies during Halloween.

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