Back to school is a time when children trade in their swimsuits for shoes and start bringing home spelling words and math problems. But sometimes, they come home with more than just homework assignments; public places like schools can be a breeding ground for infections, diseases and downright nasty critters.
Three conditions that no parent looks forward to are head lice, scabies and ringworm rash. When an outbreak occurs at your child’s school, it can be all but impossible to keep your child from becoming infected. Knowing how to manage each condition, however, can prevent it from spreading to other family members — and help clear it up in your child more quickly.
“These conditions are all treatable, but it’s important that you take proper action at the earliest signs of infection,” says Dr. Theresa Magne, a board-certified dermatologist at North Valley Dermatology Peoria in Arizona. “The important thing for parents to remember is that these things happen — and with proper treatment, you can effectively resolve them.”
Here’s a parent’s guide to managing these three common conditions:
Learn How to Lose the Lice
What They Are: Lice are tiny insects that feed on blood. While there are three different types (head lice, body lice and pubic lice), the most common type of lice to affect children is head lice. The eggs of lice are called “nits,” and the lice glue or plant themselves on the hair shafts, where they may look like dandruff. After the egg hatches, the louse reaches maturity in about seven days.
What Causes Head Lice: Head lice is spread when people share personal items or are in close contact with someone who has head lice. This can be anything from putting their head near someone with head lice or using a comb, brush, hat or pillow that has been used by someone with head lice.
Symptoms: Some of the most common signs of head lice in children are an itchy scalp, a sensation of having something crawling on their scalp and tiny spots of blood on your child’s scalp. The scalp can become infected if your child scratches his head.
How They’re Treated: If you suspect head lice, you can either use over-the-counter medications or get prescription medication from your dermatologist. You’ll apply these and use a lice comb to remove lice. You can also use a shampoo or lotion designed specifically formulated to kill lice. It generally takes about a week to clear it up.
How Your Dermatologist Can Help: “If it isn’t clearing up, or if it continues being a problem in your house, you should see a dermatologist to see what kind of prescription shampoo and medication is available,” Dr. Magne says. “They’ll be able to give you advice on further lice treatment, too.”
Prevention Tips: To prevent an infestation of head lice, check your child’s scalp at least once a week, using a magnifying glass and a bright light.
Know How to Stop Scabies
What It Is: Scabies is an infection caused by tiny human mites that burrow into the skin, causing an itchy rash. As they burrow into the skin, they lay their eggs, which allows the infection to spread.
What Causes It: Most of the time, scabies comes from direct, skin-to-skin contact, although it can also be picked up from infested items like furniture, clothes and bedding.
Symptoms: Some of the signs of scabies include itching, especially at night; a rash that often forms in a line and looks like little bites or knots under the skin; sores that can get infected if scratched; and a crust on the skin.
How It’s Treated: Scabies is not something you can treat on your own. Scratching the sores can cause an infection that leads to sepsis, which is an infection of the blood that can be life threatening.
How Your Dermatologist Can Help: Your dermatologist can diagnose scabies by a visual examination or by putting a skin sample on a slide and observing it under a microscope. “Most people can be cured with a medication that they apply to their skin, but it’s important to follow your dermatologist’s instructions carefully,” Dr. Magne says. “You may also need medications to control the itching, get rid of an infection or ease some of the swelling and redness.”
Prevention Tips: Scabies can be prevented by avoiding direct contact with an infected individual, although that can be difficult because they may not know they are infected. When one member of the family is infected, your dermatologist will probably recommend that everyone in the family receive treatment.
Get Rid of Ringworm
What It Is: Despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It’s a fungal infection that can appear anywhere on the body, and it’s sometimes known by other names, such as athlete’s foot or jock itch, depending on where it occurs.
What Causes It: Ringworm is an extremely contagious fungus that spreads easily. It can come from skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, playing with pets or farm animals or touching something like towels, bedding and even toilets that have been contaminated. Risk increases for people with a weakened immune system, allergies or dermatitis.
Symptoms: Children are most likely to get ringworm either on the scalp or on their trunk and limbs. It can appear as itchy, red, scaly or cracked skin or a ring-shaped rash. Sores can be flat or slightly raised, and, if scratched, can spread to other areas of the body.
How It’s Treated: Some cases can be treated with over-the-counter medications but other infections may require prescription-strength medications. The type of medication needed will depend on where it is located and how widespread it is. With the right medication, it usually clears up in two to four weeks.
How Your Dermatologist Can Help: Your dermatologist can confirm a ringworm diagnosis. “Since ringworm can look like many other conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and more, you’ll want to make an appointment with your dermatologist to confirm what it is and make sure you’re getting the proper medication,” Dr. Magne says.
Prevention Tips: Keep ringworm from spreading by not sharing clothing, towels, sheets, etc. with an infected individual, and make sure your children wash their hands with soap and water after playing with their pets. If you suspect your pet has an infection, take him or her to the veterinarian; that infection will need to be treated as well.
Treating these three common conditions immediately with the right medications will help clear them up more quickly. Be sure you have a trusted dermatologist on your side to help you through it.
For more information, contact U.S. Dermatology Partners today.