Can vitamin D supplements prevent colds?

Posted February 20, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: In the news

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Linus Pauling was a brilliant scientist. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 (and, later, a Nobel Peace Prize for his work towards nuclear disarmament.) In the later part of his career, he became convinced that megadoses of vitamins, especially vitamin C, could ward off upper respiratory infections and other ills. Studies have never supported those claims. But maybe he was only off by one letter of the alphabet.

A recent, large study from the BMJ provides solid support for the use of vitamin D – not C, but D – supplementation to prevent ordinary colds and other respiratory infections.

There’s been some inkling that this might be the case. We know that vitamin D, separate from its role in calcium metabolism, has an important part to play in our immune response to infections. It supports the production of built-in antiviral and antibacterial peptides, and helps immune cells make germ-destroying oxygen and nitrogen compounds. Population studies that have shown an increased susceptibility to colds among people who are immune deficient.

What we haven’t had, until now, is a convincing study from an experimental perspective. If we give vitamin D, does that really prevent colds?

What these authors did was impressive. They collected the raw, patient-by-patient data from 25 previous clinical trials of vitamin D, and combined all of that into one mega-study with about 11,000 participants. All of the patients had to have been randomized to either vitamin D or placebo, and rates of respiratory infections tracked going forward. Most of them had blood tests to assess their levels of vitamin D before the trials began.

The bottom line: vitamin D supplementation decreased the risk of a cold by about 12%. That doesn’t sound very high, but on a population level, we’re talking about a lot of infections. And: among those that had low vitamin D levels, the effect size was much larger, about 40%. Vitamin D supplementation was more effective in preventing colds with a daily dose rather than just bolus dosing once in a while.

Who’s low in vitamin D? Based on my experience looking and blood tests from children and teenagers, all of our children are low. Seriously. The only time I see blood tests reflecting a normal or high vitamin D level, it’s in someone already taking a supplement. Our children (us, too) aren’t spending enough time outside to make the vitamin D we need.

The study also found no downsides to ordinary supplements. There were no significant side effects or problems. We’re talking, here, about ordinary doses of probably 400-2,000 IU each day. There’s really no reason to take any more than that, unless there’s a problem with vitamin absorption or some other unique medical issue.

Vitamin C, Airborne, zinc, echinacea – none of these have held up to scrutiny. None of those help prevent people from getting respiratory infections. If you want you and your children to get fewer colds, there are only a few strategies that genuinely work. Stay away from sick people, keep infants out of group care, wash hands frequently, and immunize against influenza and other respiratory pathogens. And, maybe, enjoy a little more time in the sun, or take a vitamin D supplement every day.

l_pauling

What to do when your child has a concussion

Posted February 6, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

A concussion is a brain injury. A mild one, yes, but one that can lead to longstanding symptoms. What you do after a concussion, immediately and in the weeks that follow, can make a big difference in how your child recovers.

Though it’s a mild injury – there’s nothing to see on a CT, xray, or MRI – the effects of a concussion can be significant and uncomfortable for a child and family. Headaches, dizziness, trouble sleeping, and problems with concentration and mood are all common. And the average length of symptoms is three weeks. Many people experience symptoms for longer; some for much longer. What’s the best way to ensure that your child recovers as quickly as possible?

Two recent studies help clarify the best steps to take. The first, from August 2016, looked at the immediate response to a concussion. The authors compared teenage athletes who had a concussion, looking at a group that was immediately taken out of the game versus a group that continued playing. The risk of having prolonged symptoms was about 9 times as high among athletes who kept playing after concussion. Bottom line: the first thing to do after even a suspected concussion is to take the player out of the game.

The second study looked at the week after the concussion, comparing teens who rested strictly versus teens who, after a few days, started doing light exercise again. The difference here wasn’t as big, but it was significant. Athletes who did absolutely nothing, and rested completely in the week after a concussion, were about 25% more likely to have prolonged symptoms. It was better to start exercising and moving, at least a little, within a week after a concussion. Too much rest may make things worse, or at least prevent things from getting better.

To follow good concussion management, the first step is to make sure that players and coaches recognize when a concussion happens. Any time there’s a collision or blow to the head, and a child is dazed or confused afterwards – that’s a concussion. Concussions do not require a child to be completely knocked out. Just “having your bell rung” means that your brain bounced around in your skull, and it’s hurt. Coaches have to keep an eye on their players, and pull them out.

The best advice for the week after is to rest for a few days, but then start gentle activity again. If symptoms worsen, back off, but don’t wait until symptoms are 100% absolutely gone to try moving and exercising again. Though you should not let your child keep playing immediately after a concussion, too much rest for too long isn’t good either.

Earlier:

The best helmet to prevent football concussions

Protecting your child from concussions

Football and your child’s brain

The Greatest. Atlanta Olympics, 1996.

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: Which is better for treating a kid’s fever?

Posted January 30, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems, Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Ask babies with fever how they feel, and they’ll say… well, they probably won’t say anything, because they’re babies. But ask older kids, and they’ll look at you funny, and maybe say “Why are you asking me?” Kids these days, am I right?

Fevers make kids feel bad. Achy and miserable and bleh. So for comfort, I think it’s a good idea to treat fever in a child who’s uncomfortable. What’s important isn’t the number – how high the fever is – but how the child feels. Feeling bad? Let’s help you feel better.

(By the way, even though they make your child feel miserable, fevers will not harm your child in any way. Don’t be afraid of fevers.)

To treat a fever: first, offer extra fluids. Fevers are dehydrating, and a popsicle tastes good. Then reach for a fever reducing medicine, typically a brand of acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin.) But which one’s better? A November, 2016 study in Clinical Pediatrics gives ibuprofen the edge, though not by much. Ibuprofen worked a little faster (peak effect in 90 minutes, versus 2 hours for acetaminophen), and lasted somewhat longer (by about an hour, though there was a lot of variability.) My usual advice is to use whichever one you’ve got at home and what’s seemed to work best in the past.Although serious side effects are rare, either medication can cause serious problems. Acetaminophen, especially in overdoses, is toxic to the liver (so be careful using this in a child who already has liver disease.) Ibuprofen, especially with prolonged use, can cause gastric irritation and bleeding, and rarely kidney problems. It’s important to use what you’re using correctly, at the correct dose and at the correct interval (both can safely be given every 6 hours.)

Which brings us to another idea: if either is good, can a combination of them be better? In an alternating strategy, one drug is alternated with the other, so something is given every three hours, and the same drug comes around for a dose every six. Several studies (summarized here) have shown that this can reduce fever somewhat better than either drug alone, but with a much greater chance of medication errors and overdoses. If you want to try this, write down what you’re giving and when, and make sure you (and your spouse) understand the schedule.

There are a lot of myths about fever. 98.6 F is not and has never been the “normal” temperature. Fevers, themselves, cause no harm. They also don’t help very much. In the modern world, fever is not a necessary or particularly useful part of your immune response. If a fever is making your child feel bad, treat it. With acetaminophen or ibuprofen, your choice.

Not feel good by Sophie

Do natural remedies work?

Posted January 23, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

Tags: , , ,

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Last post, I gave Rachel’s questions about “natural remedies” a hard time. They’re not, usually, natural at all. And whether they’re natural or not doesn’t imply that they’re good for you or bad for you. The label “natural” is an irrelevant marketing gimmick slapped on products to get you to buy them.

Still: Rachel had a fair question, and I really haven’t answered it yet:

My daughter and I were talking the other day and saying we would like to ask a doctor what his thoughts are about all these ‘natural’ remedies that are available. Recently a friend made the remark, ‘I do everything I can to avoid a doctor.’ I lean more toward the medical system and the knowledge they have acquired over the years rather than relying on these home remedies.

OK, for the sake of answering the question, let’s just accept that “natural” means “seems natural” or “marketed as natural” or whatever you want it to mean. I think we know what Rachel’s talking about here – home remedies, or alternative medicine things, or things you can do yourself without relying on a physician. Do these kinds of things “work”?

Yes. They do. Most of the time, for most people with most problems that come to the doctor, “natural remedies” will indeed work. Usually, you will feel better, and indeed you will get better, after taking them.

(I’m not talking about a placebo effect here—though that’s an interesting subject we can talk about another time. And I’m not saying that these natural remedies “trick” you into feeling better, or that you only feel better because you spent money on something and you expect to feel better. I’m talking 100%, honest-to-goodness, my rash went away and I am better-better!)

Here’s the scoop, the insider secret you all have been waiting for: most concerns that most people bring to the doctor, most of the time, are things that will get better on their own. Your cough will get better, your fever will get better, your sprained ankle will get better. Your rash will improve, you’ll have fewer belly aches, and that weird foot odor will probably improve, too. The fact is, and doctors and alternative-health practitioners know this, that your body will heal, and your symptoms will improve, and — if what you want to do is play the odds – whatever is on your mind the day you go to a medical practitioner is probably going to get better on its own.

There’s two reasons for this, depending on the nature of the problem. For acute things (like a common cold, or the flu, or a twisted ankle), your body will probably do a pretty good job healing itself if you get out of the way and let it get better. For longstanding sorts of things, like headaches or back pain, you’ll get better, too—if only because you usually go see your healer when these symptoms are at their peak. Think about it – you’ve got backaches, or stomach pains, or whatever. From day to day or week to week the symptoms go up and down. Your symptoms are sometimes worse, or sometimes better. You don’t go to your doctor (or naturopath) when the symptoms are minimal or improved. You go when you feel bad. And—guess what?—the symptoms continue to go up and down. Only now, you think it’s going down because of the medicine, or because of the herb or the magic potion. But: in truth, the “treatment” probably doesn’t matter. All that matters is that most problems get better.

Of course, “most problems” isn’t all problems. Your child’s asthma, leukemia, or iron deficiency anemia isn’t likely to go away on its own, and if you’ve had a heart attack you’d better get thee to a hospital, pronto. Some things will get better faster with appropriate treatment. I am not suggesting that no one needs a medical evaluation. But the main point of almost any doctor visit is to get advice from someone with both the expertise and experience to tell the very-many-who-will-get-better from the few-who-really-need-therapy.

And the few who truly need therapy probably don’t need what naturopaths have to offer.

 

Ric Flair

Most natural remedies aren’t

Posted January 17, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Pediatric Insider information

Tags: , , ,

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Rachel wrote:

My daughter and I were talking the other day and saying we would like to ask a doctor what his thoughts are about all these ‘natural’ remedies that are available. Recently a friend made the remark, ‘I do everything I can to avoid a doctor.’ I lean more toward the medical system and the knowledge they have acquired over the years rather than relying on these home remedies. What are your thoughts?

A great question, Rachel. It turns out that many of these “natural” remedies aren’t very natural at all. Something should be considered “natural” if it exists in the world around us – if it’s a part of the observable, real world we live in – and a part of our world that we didn’t create or imagine. Trees and rocks and wind are natural. Ghosts and voodoo curses are not (they only exist in our imagination). Bridges, ovens, clothing, and books are not (we made those things.)

When you think about it, a lot of what passes for “natural” remedies are not natural. Homeopathic remedies rely on an entirely imagined mechanism of chemistry invented by Samuel Hahnemann around 1796. He thought that by diluting and shaking substances, a vital essence of their properties could be captured, which upon further dilution could alleviate the symptoms that were caused by ingesting that same substance. Acupuncture relies on changing the flow of a life-energy, Qi, through channels in the body that do not, objectively, exist. Chiropractic (invented by DD Palmer in 1895) relies on identifying and treating “subluxations” that do not exist on x-rays or any other objective test. Modern chiropractors have acknowledged that their subluxations are more of an idea than a real thing, but most of them insist that treating these nonexisting things is helpful. (Not all chiropractors subscribe to this belief – a small group is trying to distance themselves from the dogmatic belief in Palmer’s subluxations. I wish them well.)

Many other kinds of healing supported by “naturopathic doctors” are not at all natural. Reiki, Ayurveda, “detoxification”, iridology, reflexology, kinesiology, and many other ideas are like homeopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. They all  “supernatural”, like ghosts and voodoo and magic.

What about herbal medicine? Herbs, themselves, are natural (and, often, tasty!) But what’s sold at drug and what used to be called “health food” stores is not. Many herbal supplements do not in fact contain the labeled herbs. The herbs are imaginary and un-natural. Even if the herbs are indeed contained in the supplement, by the time they’ve been processed and turned into capsules, are they any more natural than the “medications” on the shelf nearby?

I think the wisest way to think about Rachel’s question is to reject the false dichotomy between what’s “natural” and what’s not. There’s nothing inherently safer or better about natural things. Smallpox is natural, earthquakes are natural, heart attacks and strokes and cerebral palsy are all natural. Poisons from pufferfish and venoms from rattlesnakes are natural. On the other plenty of good and necessary things are “unnatural.” The food we eat has been grown with fertilizers and pesticides (including organic foods, which use all kinds of substances you wouldn’t consider “natural” at all), brought to stores by trucks on roads driven by people wearing wristwatches and clothes. None of these things are natural. And that’s OK.

 

Coming up next post: OK, fine, natural remedies aren’t natural. But do they work?

Who you gonna call?

Thanks, 3 million!

Posted January 12, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Hey Insiders! It’s time for a quick thanks! About a month ago we passed 3 million views, which is pretty cool for a blog with no commercial partners. I don’t get any links or love from pay or industry sites – all of my traffic comes from you guys, sharing and posting and linking. Thanks!

For those who’ve found the site recently, let’s go over the rules: Feel free to share and post. Anything derogatory, threatening, or downright mean will be deleted. If you’ve got a topic to suggest, feel free to write in – but keep them brief and general. I will not respond to questions asking for specific or personal medical advice. If you’re my patient, contact me at my office with medical questions.

Thanks again, especially for the posts, comments, and shares!

Thanksgiving parade

Nosebleeds: A quick guide to prevention and treatment in children

Posted January 9, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Frequent commenter wzrd wrote in, “Perhaps in the future, a timely article on epistaxis, specifically seasonal/winter related? I used to have the worst nosebleeds in the winter as a child, literally filling bath towels with blood. I’m sure that you’d have excellent insight into the worthiness of cautery in severe cases.”

Wzrd here is asking about epistaxis, usually called a “nosebleed” by most people. I have no idea why doctors need a separate word for everything. Hey! Were you curious about where that word, epistaxis, comes from? “Epi” shows up in a lot of medical words, like epidermis or epiglottis – it means “upon.” The “staxis” means to “to let fall in drops,” sharing the same root as “stalactite”. Which doesn’t necessarily mean nosebleeds are like stalactites hanging off your face. Isn’t language fun?

Winter nosebleeds are often caused by dry, hot air pouring out of the furnace. That dry air sucks the moisture out of the lining of the nose. Little cracks form, which are itchy and irritated. Junior rubs or picks his itchy nose, and nosebleeds start. Once a nosebleed begins, it will clot off—omnes sanguinem clausuris—but the clot is never as strong as the intact blood vessel. So children typically get a few nosebleeds in a row, over a few days, as they continue to rub their itchy dry nose.

Parents need to make sure there isn’t some other kind of issue going on. If a child has nosebleeds accompanied by other bleeding—like bleeding under the skin, or gum bleeding—or if there’s a strong family history of excessive bleeding, then a blood workup for a bleeding disorder is needed. Most of the time, though, nosebleeds are just nosebleeds.

Nosebleeds, as wzrd said, can sometimes bleed a lot, even soaking sheets or towels. (More medical lingo fun: in doctor-talk, we call that “bleeding like stink.” I don’t know the Latin roots of that phrase.) To treat a nosebleed, have your child sit up, maybe leaning forward a bit, and pinch the fleshy end of the nose shut. Be gentle—it doesn’t take a hard squeeze. Then resist the temptation to check too soon. Once you let go, if it’s still bleeding you should hold it even longer the next time. Start with a 5-minute hold, and if that doesn’t work 10 minutes, and if even that doesn’t work, try 10 minutes again on your way to the ER to get the nose packed. You can also try putting some ice (or a bag of frozen peas) on the bridge of the nose to decrease blood flow.

You may have heard that people with nosebleeds ought to lie down, or lie back. That’s not a great idea. More blood will be swallowed that way, and blood in the stomach can cause vomiting.

To prevent nosebleeds, keep the air as humid as possible. A vaporizer or humidifier can help, especially one that really pours out the mist. A good humidifier will use at least a gallon of water to humidify a child’s bedroom every night. Many nosebleeds are also caused by picking (or, as we say in Latin, “digital trauma.”) You may want to encourage Junior to keep his or her fingers out of there.

You can also moisturize your child’s nose by having him snort some saline nasal gel. Dab a blob of this gel—it has the consistency of toothpaste—on a fingertip, and have your child snort it up into his nose at bedtime. They also make swabs of saline gel, but the swabs themselves are stiff and can irritate the lining of the nose if used too aggressively.

If nosebleeds are frequent or problematic, and these simple steps haven’t helped, the next step would be to visit an ENT specialist (or an “otorhinolaryngologist” – you look up the Latin. What do I look like, Google?) They can peek up the nose with a little endoscope, and see if there’s an exposed blood vessel that can be chemically cauterized. The procedure is done with a little squirt of topical anesthetic, and is reasonably easy and painless to do once a child can sit still.

Drowsee