Back to school health checks

Dr Sara Khawaja on the importance of regular health assessments

Interview, Health
Interview, Health

Specialist Pediatrician Dr Sara Khawaja from FamilyFIRST Medical Center talks to us about the importance of regular health assessments and what’s involved.

Why is it important for kids to get a health check before they go back to school?
It’s a good opportunity to sort out any health issues during the holidays so that kids can perform at their very best once they are back at school. We underestimate the effect of illness, allergies and nutritional deficiencies on kids’ development, behaviour and of course school performance. For instance ‘harmless’ allergic rhinitis (hay fever) can bother a child so much with a constantly runny nose, itchy eyes and persistent sneezing that he/she may be unable to concentrate on writing or drawing activities. Another common condition, iron deficiency anemia, usually caused by insufficient dietary iron, leads to irritability and learning difficulties. Conditions like these are easily treated and once controlled, lead to immense improvement in the quality of life of the child.

What does a typical health check involve?
I usually sit down with the family and enquire about the child’s general health, diet, vaccinations, development, behaviour and school performance, physical activity, chronic or recurrent problems, past illnesses and hereditary diseases in the family. I measure the child’s weight, height, head circumference and BMI to make sure he or she is growing well. After building a friendly rapport with the child, I examine him or her to screen for potential health problems and to assess development. Some of the problems we screen for are allergic conditions, vision problems, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine), obesity, developmental delays and behavioural problems.

Do you recommend bringing kids to get a check up on a regular basis?
In the first two years of a child’s life, there are frequent doctor’s visits for vaccinations and growth and development checks. After this they should be seen at least annually if they are healthy. Kids should also have vision screening aged three and then again aged five.

Are there certain vaccinations or boosters that you recommend for kids at the beginning of the school year?
The holidays are a good time for children to get up to date with their vaccinations. According to the UAE immunisation schedule children should receive booster vaccinations to protect against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox aged four or five before they enter school. Kids aged ten should also receive a booster to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio.

What are the most common complaints and illnesses kids have once they are back at school?
In general, kids catch viruses such as colds and coughs, sore throats, diarrhea, vomiting illnesses and chicken pox.

What advice can you give to parents to optimise kids health at home?
Prevention is the key here. Educate your kids and set a good example regarding healthy eating, physical activity and hygiene. Millions of kids miss school every year because of illness caused by infectious agents like viruses and bacteria. Using soap to wash hands could protect one out of every three young children from diarrhea and one out of six children from respiratory infections like pneumonia.

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