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Doctors help devise a plan to keep kids healthy this school year

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As kids scramble to squeeze the last ounce out of their summer vacation, health professionals say mom and dad should save a few drops for a check up. At home, parents have some control over their child's environment, diet and schedule — but all bets are off once that first school bell rings. So before parents send their kids back to school, Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Dr. Rahul Khare and Dr. Michael Terry share their tips for keeping kids out of the nurse's office (and in one piece) this year. If you have a question for the good doctors, call (312) 923-9239 during Eight Forty-Eight Wednesday or join the conversation on Twitter at #848.

Emergency department physician Dr. Khare's back to school safety tips:

• Beware of heavy back packs: Backpacks exceeding 15 percent of the child’s weight can cause back pain. A heavy bag can also throw off a child’s balance making it easier for them to fall over.

  When looking for a backpack remember these three things:

  1. Use two straps. Backpacks with only one strap put all the strain on one shoulder causing unevenness. Make sure the straps are a good fit. The straps should not be too high where they pull on the shoulders, but not too low where it strains the back.
  2. Opt for thicker shoulder pads. Shoulder straps with padding will provide more comfort. If the straps are causing too much strain, look into backpacks with wheels.
  3. 10 percent rule. Aim for your student to carry 10 percent or less of their body weight. Remember, kids can carry their books in their arms as well to forgo some of the weight.

• Check ups: Start the new year with a physical exam. Make an appointment before the school year starts to avoid missing class time.

  Speak to your doctor about:

  • Immunizations. Make sure your child is up to date and your school has a copy. Ask for a copy of their records so you have them on file just in case after school programs or daycare facilities request them.
  • Growing pains. If your child is experiencing growing pains make sure they are not something more serious like scoliosis or troubled knees.
  • Nutrition. Ask your doctor how many calories your child should be consuming during lunch. The number varies drastically during puberty.

Allergies: Before school begins make sure to call their teacher before and learn their allergy policy. It’s also important to speak to your child about how to handle emergency situations.

  Make an action plan

  • Discuss their medicine and emergency plan with their teacher
  • Make a card including your child’s allergic reaction symptoms, picture, and treatment. Give copies to all the lunch room and all of their elective teachers

If your child has a severe allergy:

  • Give them a medical ID bracelet that cannot be easily removed
  • Provide the school with multiple doses of emergency medicine
  • Encourage the school to create allergen free lunch table

Remember to be careful around these accidental triggers:

  • Homemade play dough made with peanut butter
  • Icing containing egg whites
  • Classroom crafts using nuts
  • Classroom birthday treats

• Bacteria and Viruses

      Easy ways to stay germ free

  • Teach your children to wash their hands correctly. Use warm soapy water and wash until they have sang the happy birthday song twice.
  • Wash your hands before and after you touch your mouth, eyes and nose.
  • Talk to their teachers about their disinfecting policies. If they don’t already sanitize the desk regularly, have your child wipe down their desk with antibacterial wipes.
  • Keep hand sanitizer in your child’s backpack, desk or locker.
  • Avoid the community pencil sharpener. Opt for a handheld one. It will work better, quieter, and won’t spread bacteria.
  • Avoid borrowing crayons when coloring.
  • Get the flu shot! It is the best and easiest way to protect against the flu.

NOTE: If your child is not feeling well, has a cold or the flu, do not send them to school. This will only spread the germs, get other children sick, and prolong their road to recovery.

• At home

      Prepare for the new school year at home

  • Start putting your children to bed earlier and waking up earlier as it gets closer to the start of school year.
  • Designate an area in the house to keep backpacks, lunches, and other things for school. Put a list of things to remember next to this area.
  • Create a family calendar that your children can easily access. They can add their own dates such as homework or play dates. It will encourage great organizational skills.

• Back to college/high school

      For students going to high school or college

  • Make sure their immunizations are up to check, and look into meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) and HPV vaccines for both girls and boys.
  • Talk to your teen about the dangers and consequences of binge drinking and unprotected sex.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Terry (team doctor for the Chicago Blackhawks) tips for student athletes:

  • Preparation for fall sports season should begin even before the start of the school year
    • Athletes should work with their coaches or school athletic trainers to develop a conditioning program that will gradually build endurance and strength.
    • Diving into intense workouts may cause injuries which may delay the start of the sports season or even force the athlete to sit out entirely.

  • When in training, young athletes should focus on three major factors that affect sport performance: hydration, nutrition, and rest
    • When practicing or competing in the heat, drink water before, during and after activity to decrease the risk of heat-related illness.
    • Athletes should choose healthy, nutrient-rich foods to fuel their bodies during athletic participation.
    • Young athletes also need plenty of rest and adequate sleep to perform at a competitive level.
    • Too little sleep and unhealthy food choices make young athletes prone to injury and limits their ability to perform.
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