It’s a fact of life, along with homework, school-age children often bring home germs and illnesses. When children work and play in groups, germs are likely to spread. We see several common childhood illnesses at RiverStone Health school-based health clinics in Orchard Elementary and Medicine Crow Middle Schools, including sore throats, common colds, coughs, ear pain, and pink eye.

Viral illnesses, such as colds or the flu, commonly cause sore throats. These illnesses occur more during winter but can happen year-round. In addition to a sore, scratchy throat, a cold virus can cause your child to have a fever, runny nose and cough. These infections usually get better without medication in 7 to 10 days.

After a few days, most sore throats clear up. However, strep throat is different. Common symptoms for strep are fever, throat pain, headache, red and swollen tonsils, stiff or swollen neck, stomach ache or signs of dehydration. Your child's provider may need to see the child to decide whether to do a strep test.

Colds are caused by viruses. Symptoms of a cold may last for up to ten days. Green mucus in the nose doesn’t necessarily mean antibiotics are needed. Common colds never need antibiotics. If a sinus infection is suspected based on your child’s symptoms and a physical exam, your provider will consider whether antibiotics are the best choice.

In children, coughing is commonly caused by a cold. Usually a cough gets better on its own and is not serious. If your child has a bad cough that won’t go away, see your healthcare provider.

Ear pain is also common in children and can have many causes. An in-office exam is the best way to make an accurate diagnosis.

Bacteria, a virus, allergies or eye irritants can cause pink eye. Pink eye is contagious if it’s caused by bacteria or a virus. See your healthcare provider to determine whether antibiotic eye drops or ointment is needed to speed recovery and prevent its spread.

During cold and flu season, it may be hard to decide when your sick child should stay home and when you should go see your healthcare provider. If you’re ever in doubt about your child's symptoms or health, call your provider.

Remembering these routine practices can help stop the spread of infections:

• Cover your mouth or nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put your used tissue in a waste basket.

• If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or arm, not your hands.

• Remember to wash your hands after coughing or sneezing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Do not share personal items such as water bottles.

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Vicki Sulser, RN, the manager of RiverStone Health school-based clinics at Orchard Elementary and Medicine Crow Middle School, can be reached at vicki.sul@riverstonehealth.org.