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Athlete’s Foot – A 12-Year Old Boy’s Cautionary Tale

Children's bare feet resting on grassWhen our son Elliott turned 12, he was by nature independent-minded, stubborn and argumentative (but cute!). Add to his natural tendencies the typical behavior of tweendom, and it was not surprising we ended up in the situation that led me to write this post.

This is a cautionary tale about boys, stubbornness, personal hygiene, failed parental nagging….and athlete’s foot.

Elliott had for months paid no attention to taking his shoes off when he got home from school or came in after playing. Since he’s often home a couple of hours before we return from work – and our first thought in the door is usually not “Dude, have you taken off your shoes yet??” – we frequently discovered his shoes still on at bed time.

It doesn’t help that he has genetically sweaty/smelly feet (particularly noticeable as he nears puberty) – and is often out shooting hoops with friends or tearing through the neighborhood in search of spies – which all just adds to the wet, warm biome in his shoes. But we’d given him ample reasons and months (years?) of coaching about the need to let both his feet and his shoes breathe, and yet he still didn’t listen.

Sometimes you just have to let them fall, fail, learn for themselves. So when Elliott came to me last week to show me the scaly scabby area on the bottom of his foot – which I’ve since discovered is the “moccasin” variety of athlete’s foot – I made sure to connect the dots between his behaviors and this undesired outcome. The next day I came home to find his sneakers propped up in front of the lit fireplace, drying out! And now he is putting anti-fungal cream on the bottom of each foot (yes, it’s on both) two times a day – and was excused from gym class (which he loves).

So, if you have a tween boy who isn’t responding to your gentle prodding – or well deserved nagging – about personal hygiene, feel free to use this cautionary tale.

And for added impact, here are some things about athlete’s foot I wish I had known earlier:

  • Athlete’s foot does not just come with a rash…it itches, stings and burns!
  • This fungal infection can spread to other parts of the body – including the hands and groin area
  • It can be difficult to get rid of, especially if it spreads to the toenails
  • Infection of the toenails can result in thickened, cracked nails – or they can fall out
  • More severe infections may require prescription ointments and anti-fungal pills
  • After you have had athlete’s foot once, you are more likely to get it again

Summer Hazards: Part I – Kids, Watch Out for the Sun

The heat of summer has arrived, and it is a good time to present some safety topics related to living in a warm environment.

Let’s discuss the advantage of remaining well hydrated during the time of the year when fluid loss through activities can cause significant problems. Some experts believe that everyone should drink 1 oz of fluid for every 2 pounds of body weight per day. Admittedly that is a large amount of fluids but our bodies are more than half water and the millions of chemical reactions that are ongoing in our bodies every minute of every day require water, among other elements to keep going. In hot and humid weather, the elements work against us to keep that fluid reserve “topped off”. Exercising during this kind of weather exacerbates the potential for water loss and subsequent poor regulation of body temperature. It is this poor regulation of body temperature that can lead to the various forms of disease after heat exposure, ranging from mild to life-threatening. So, stay very well hydrated during the summer months and stay alert to the problems that can arise with exercise and poor fluid intake.

Everyone likes the appearance of tan skin and unfortunately, the source of that sought-after appearance is the sun. A certain amount of sunlight is a very good thing and in fact, a lack of sunlight over time can lead to such problems as vitamin D deficiency and poor control of calcium metabolism and regulation. The downside of this exposure is that the UVA and UVB rays given off by the sun and absorption of those rays through your skin can damage the skin leading to lack of elasticity and signs of early aging. Far worse than this effect is the tendency to alter the genetic characteristics of skin cells that can lead to cancer of the skin, especially the most severe form, melanoma, which can be fatal.

Fortunately, there are things that can be done to minimize the effects of exposure to the sun.

  • Try to avoid exposure to bright sun between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM when the sun’s rays are most direct and therefore stronger.
  • Make use of the various sunblocks on the market. These sunblocks are usually designated by an SPF number that attempts to give us, the consumers some way of comparing them
  • Regardless of the SPF number, the sunblock needs to be applied and reapplied every couple of hours in order to give the protection it promises. The higher the number gives you some idea as to how often it needs to be reapplied. The higher the number, theoretically the less often it needs to be applied.
  • Make it a rule of thumb to reapply all sunblock at least every hour or two, and, if your skin gets wet, it may need to be applied more often.

My next post will deal with other summer hazards; insect bites, poison ivy, and miscellaneous others.

How Do You Treat Your Child’s Sunburn If It’s So Bad it Blisters?

Sunburns can be more serious than most believe, especially on a child.

Seek treatment from your physician if the sunburn has blistered over a large portion of your child’s body or if it is extremely painful. Also call your doctor if your child experiences facial swelling, a fever, chills, a headache, confusion or faintness. Other symptoms that signal the need for medical attention are signs of dehydration — such as increased thirst or dry eyes — and signs of infection on the skin, such as increasing redness, swelling or puss.

To minimize the damage caused by sunburn, the most important thing is to remove your child from the sun immediately after seeing the burn.

You can then treat symptoms by placing the child in a cool shower or bath, or by applying cool compresses several times a day. It’s also important to push extra fluids for the next two to three days to avoid dehydration and promote healing. You can give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain, but do not use aspirin in children or teenagers. Don’t break blisters, which will increase the risk of infection. It’s also important to keep sunburned areas covered from the sun until they’re healed.

Serious sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer later in life.

The key to avoiding the pain and minimizing the risk is to keep burns from happening in the first place. You should avoid the sun if possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when it is strongest. If you must be in the sun, use a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15, even on cloudy days. You should put sunscreen on your child 30 minutes before heading outside and reapply every hour or so if your child is sweating or swimming. For even greater protection, cover your child’s skin with protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat. Be careful on the water and the beach, where cool breezes can lull you into a false sense of safety from sunburn.

Making Play Dough – A Family First Aid Fiasco

Reading the post, First Aid Basics Every Parent Should Know, from Kristin Bailey Murphy reminded me of one of our own first aid experiences. Kids may be accident magnets…but it doesn’t help when Mom and Dad have a “dumb parent moment”!

Our Emergency

This first aid fiasco was rooted in “mommy-guilt”. When my son was two years old I started taking him to crafty enrichment classes at our local children’s museum every Saturday. I was working a lot during that period and this was a chance to spend time together while also feeling like I was doing something for his development.

It was in these classes that I learned the recipe for homemade play dough. Wow…not only could we share these classes together….but I could give my young son safe, edible (what doesn’t a two-year old eat?) play dough THAT I MADE MYSELF! But, seriously, the stuff is really easy and fun to make – and even at age two Elliott could help in making play dough, since you have to knead the dough while it cools.

No, the issue came from me trying to add that little something extra – a little more mommy-love. The museum jazzed up their dough with glitter and some peppermint oil for fragrance. So I went out and bought a few different essential oils – for variety. On the particular day in question, with Elliott standing on a chair at the kitchen counter helping me as I started making play dough, I decided to try cinnamon oil. Only the lid was really tight. My husband was nearby so I asked him to open the bottle (one of several great husband roles!) – which he promptly did. But I didn’t notice since I was occupied by congealing play dough in a pot on the stove. And he didn’t realize that I didn’t notice. Communication breakdown! But our 2-year old noticed…and promptly poured concentrated food-grade cinnamon oil all over himself. Essential oils, like cinnamon oil, can be toxic to the skin in high concentrations and can result in itching, burning, redness and inflammation. Suddenly we had a screaming child in the kitchen – and had to deal with a poison control situation!

What To Do (and Not To Do!)

We knew we had to get the oil off his skin quickly – and keep him from spreading it to other areas like his face, since he had it on his hands as well. My husband stripped off his clothes immediately and held his arms down while rushing him to the bathroom. In the meantime I was calling our local Poison Control Center.

Since he was so young our first reaction was to put him in the bath, but as soon as the water started to pool around him we realized our mistake. This wouldn’t wash away the oil. It might just get it on more of his body. And that’s just what the Poison Control experts said. They recommended flushing water over the affected area for a full 20 minutes, especially since he had a definite red rash where his skin had come in contact with the oil. To best accomplish this and to soothe Elliott, my husband stripped down and got into the shower as well. That way he could be sure of the water temperature and that the right skin areas were in the water flow. Thankfully the shower had an almost immediate effect. The crying stopped very quickly – and after the full 20 minutes there were no lasting marks or redness. But for several years our son did have an aversion to “cimmomon”!

How To Be (Better) Prepared

Obviously keep all essential oils out of the reach of children – and be careful when using them in the presence of kids. Something we became acutely aware of! As Kristin pointed out in her post, also be sure to have the number of your local Poison Control prominently displayed. But if you need to find it quickly – like we did – just look on the first page of your white or yellow pages.

And here is the infamous play dough recipe. Despite this incident we’ve had many years of safe fun and success with it.

Homemade Play Dough

1 Cup Flour

1 Cup Water

1 Tbs Vegetable Oil

½ Cup Salt

1 Tsp Cream of Tartar

A few drops of Food Coloring or Essential Oil (e.g. Peppermint Oil) {optional}

Glitter {optional}

Cook over medium heat until mixture pulls away from sides of pan and becomes play dough in consistency (add glitter part way through this process, before the dough becomes too thick). Remove from pan and knead until cool. Keeps 3 months unrefrigerated in a sealed zip-closure bag.

Teenage Acne: As a Parent, What You Need to Know – Part II

In my last post I discussed the pathophysiology of acne and how a pimple is formed. From the initial plugging of the duct going from the small gland in the skin to the outside to the colonization of the thick material stuck in the duct with bacteria. The growth of bacteria and the eventual formation of a pimple was the final common pathway to the process.

All of the forms of treatment are aimed at relieving one of the above factors. The simplest form of treatment is the use of keratolytic agents which cause the top layers of skin to peal faster than they ordinarily do. You must remember that our skin is constantly pealing and replacing itself. In an effort to prevent plugging of the ducts an effort is made to try to keep the skin pealing frequently.

The two most common keratolytic agents are benzoyl peroxide, and retinoic acid. When used too rapidly these can cause flushing and irritation of the skin, so we usually start using it less frequently than we use it eventually. The other process involves bacteria getting into the pores from the skin (we all have bacteria on our skin) and growing to produce a painful pimple. For this there are a variety of antibiotics that can be used both topically (placed right on the skin) or systemically (taken by mouth). The problem is that the process of formation of a pimple takes quite a long time, and the stimulus for teenage acne (hormones) does not stop while treatment begins. So, it is usually a prolonged process to clear the acne (months versus weeks or days).

There are all types of combinations of medications to use for acne and if one does not work it is reasonable to change products. A few of these are found over the counter such as proactive, but most are prescription medications.

Of course, regular soap and water washes help also and avoidance of picking or squeezing the pimple is very important because it can change simple acne in the skin to a much larger cyst or abscess under the skin that can then scar the skin.

Most kids get some degree of acne at one point or another, but keep reminding your children that there are ways to deal with acne, because is can be an emotionally upsetting time for adolescents.

Teenage Acne: As a Parent, What You Need to Know – Part I

The scourge of adolescence, acne appears in young adults very frequently and is the cause of much concern, anxiety and even behavioral disorders that can lead to forced changes in life style. It has a wide range of presentations from tiny black dots (black heads) to large cystic reddened lesions that can lead to lifelong disfigurement. This article is to explain, at least partially, the cause, course and treatment of this common problem in an effort to ease the pain that your adolescent might go through.

At a certain time in a child’s life, usually between 12 and 16 years of age, there is an outpouring of hormones into the system as puberty begins to show itself. These hormones, along with other bodily changes, cause very small glands in the skin to increase production of a thick gooey material that then tries to make its way through tiny ducts to the skin surface. When it does, this substance becomes oxidized by the oxygen in the air and can turn a dark or black color. It also becomes more thick and tends to further block that duct. This is what is referred to as a “black head”. In this stage it is not infected and if that plug could be removed the thick material might very well ooze out and the “problem” is over.

In a certain amount of cases, however, that plug remains and skin bacteria (everyone has bacteria growing on their skin) get into the duct and begin to grow. As it grows, “pus” is produced and the duct becomes filled with white material replacing the black outer plug. This is now a small pimple or “white head”. If the situation remains unchanged and the bacteria continue to grow this can cause an inflammatory reaction and the skin around the lesion will turn red and become sore. At this point it will usually open and drain by itself. In even a smaller number of cases the pimple can grow quite large (especially if it is manipulated- attempts to “squeeze the pimple”) and cause cystic lesions which, when healed, can leave scars.

The process of pimple formation is not affected by anything your adolescent does, such as eating sweets or fatty foods, and he/she must be made aware of this.

After a certain amount of time, the initial bombardment of hormones decreases in intensity as the body acclimates to its new level of maturation and in most cases the acne spontaneously resolves.

In my next post I will address the treatment options of acne.

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