“Ick! I’ve got what?!”
Back to school can mean an uptick in yucky contagious conditions like lice, pink eye and impetigo. The good news? They’re highly treatable—and nothing to worry about. Here’s how to help your kids (and you) get through them all.
Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
What it is: Inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and surface of the eye
Symptoms: Redness, swelling, tearing, itching, a gritty sensation and drainage from the eye that can create a crust, especially overnight
How to get rid of it: Pink eye can be viral or bacterial. If it's viral, it will clear up on its own in a week or so. Antibiotic drops can clear up bacterial pink eye in about four days.
How to help your child: Remind her that it's important not to spread pink eye to others, so she should wash her hands frequently and use a separate towel. If she's squeamish about getting eye drops, try this: Have her sit with her head back. Have her close her eyes. Apply drops next to the tear ducts beside the nose. Have her open her eyes; the drops will roll in.
School or home? Check with your school about its policy, but in general, a child with oozing eyes should stay home. If your child has been treated with antibiotics, present a copy of the prescription or a doctor's note to allow reentry.
What it is: Lice and their eggs (called nits) infest the hair.
Symptoms: Head-scratching, ticklish scalp, swollen lymph nodes in the neck
How to get rid of it: Using a fine-tooth comb, go through your child's hair a small section at a time and remove any live bugs. Or use an over-the-counter treatment labeled for use on people. If it doesn't work, your pediatrician may write a prescription. Note: Do not use home remedies, such as bleach and kerosene, or essential oils.
How to help your child: Say, "You didn't do anything wrong, and having lice is nothing to be embarrassed about." Give your child plenty of hugs, and ask the pediatrician for a handout: Reassurance from a reputable source can keep your child calm.
School or home? Check with your school. Some have "no-nits" policies, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children should be allowed back as soon as treatment begins.
What it is: A bacterial skin infection common in kids
Symptoms: Small red spots around the nose or mouth that change to blisters. The sores develop a brownish crust.
How to get rid of it: An antibiotic ointment can treat milder cases; oral antibiotics can treat more severe impetigo. With treatment, it takes about a week for the sores to heal. Be sure to wash and dry the sores before applying ointment.
How to help your child: Reduce the ick factor by removing the crusts. Have your child soak in warm water for about 15 minutes, then gently scrub and pat dry. Make sure your child does not share towels and linens to avoid spreading impetigo.
School or home? Your child can return to school 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment. Cover the sores with bandages.