August marks back-to-school season, an ideal time for parents to help improve their children’s health. Before schedules become packed with classes, homework and extracurricular activities, Dr. Ravi Johar, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare of Missouri, is available to share with parents a back-to-school “health checklist” with the following items:
Get a Comprehensive Eye Exam: About 80 percent of what children learn is through their eyes. With that in mind, a child’s first comprehensive eye exam should occur before age 1, again at age 3 and before entering school at age 5 or 6. But a school’s vision screening is not a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam, as screenings can miss conditions such as poor eye alignment, focusing issues and farsightedness.
Children often don’t complain if their vision isn’t normal, so it’s important to look for possible signs such as squinting while reading or watching television, difficulty hitting or catching a ball, or headaches when watching 3D movies.
Get a Dental Cleaning: Untreated dental problems may diminish attention, decrease self-esteem and limit a child’s ability to learn at school. Tooth decay is largely preventable, yet it ranks as the most common chronic disease among children. With that in mind, parents should schedule regular dental exams every six months, especially at schools that require a back-to-school dental checkup.
For parents with teenagers, it is important to recognize the risks of opioid addiction, especially after wisdom teeth removal. If you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid following a dental or other medical procedure, ask your health care professional if there are alternatives, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Get Recommended Immunizations: Children’s vaccines are 90% to 99% effective and may protect kids from diseases such as mumps, tetanus and chicken pox. By helping reduce the risk of contracting potentially preventable diseases, studies show children may have fewer school absences.
If your child runs a low-grade fever or has swelling in the shot location after the immunization, these minor side effects typically last a couple days. Apply a cool, wet washcloth on the sore area to help ease discomfort, but check with your doctor about the appropriateness of over-the-counter pain medications.