Archive for the ‘Medical problems’ category

Grunting Baby Syndrome – A whole lot of show for very little poop

April 21, 2016

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

Lemelon wrote in:

“Grunting Baby Syndrome. Is this really a thing? My 6 week old son grunts, strains and writhes from ~approximately 3-6am every night. Most of the time he sleeps through it. My GP suspects reflux but ranitidine has not helped. Also, he’s very happy/calm all day rarely fusses or cries. My google searching came across Grunting Baby Syndrome. Is that a real thing? When do babies grow out of it on average?”

One of the fun things about writing this blog are good questions, or questions about things I had never heard of before. And, yes, Grunting Baby Syndrome is a real “thing”, and something I’ve talked with parents about for years. I’d just never heard this name for it. I think the name is mostly used in the UK (most of the sites I found referring to it come from across the pond), but it seems to be catching on here. Whatever you call it, it’s one of those things that makes sense with a little explanation.

Anyone who’s had a newborn knows that poop doesn’t always come easily. There’s often a big show, with grunting and a red face, and sometimes crying (this is the baby we’re talking about, here. Not dad. I think.) But the poo itself isn’t hard or even firm – it’s normal, ordinary baby poo, soft as applesauce or weird yellow pudding. So why the big show? Why all the grunting?

Two reasons, I think. One is that it’s genuinely difficult to have a bowel movement while lying on your back. Go ahead, try it yourself. We’ll wait here.

See? With nothing to push your feet against, it just doesn’t work. I’ll bet you were pushing and grunting and your face turned red too. Perhaps your behavior was puzzling to your spouse, who chased you out of the bedroom with a broom. You should probably go back and explain, later.

But there’s a second reason for the grunting. Have you ever thought about the steps you’re taking to poop? You need to tighten up your abdominal muscles to push, while simultaneously relaxing your pelvic floor and anus. Tricky! It’s like patting your head while rubbing your stomach – another trick that newborns can’t do well. Tightening one set of muscles while relaxing another isn’t easy. You can tell a baby’s having trouble coordinating this if you pat their bottoms while they’re grunting. Their little buns are squeezed together, all tense. It’s no wonder the poop can’t come out! And it’s no wonder that when it eventually does, it’s a noisy explosion that startles Junior and parents alike.

So: what should parents do? Relax. Don’t get anxious – that will not help your baby get through this. Gently bicycle his little legs, and hold him, and help him relax. When gas passes, and it will, make a little joke. “You sound like Daddy!” would be appropriate, or “Here comes Grandma!” if she’s not in the room. A bad thing to do is to get wrapped up in the drama, and add more worry. If it’s at night, and the grunting is keeping you awake, turn down the baby monitor. The poop will come, I promise.

This isn’t constipation, which requires hard stools. Giving a stool softener won’t work, and neither will changing formulas (though it will get you off the phone with your pediatrician’s office. I probably shouldn’t have told you that.) Rectal stimulation with a thermometer will work, but only in the short run—that won’t help Junior figure this out himself, which is the only long term solution.

If you’re worried that your child just cannot pass stools, talk with your child’s doc. There are some rare conditions that prevent poopage. But the vast majority of grunting, red-faced babies have this “Grunting Baby Syndrome”, which is another thing you don’t have to worry about.

Monica Seles

Serious allergic reactions to vaccines: Something else not to worry about

April 18, 2016

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

A huge study of over 25 million doses of vaccines has shown that serious allergic reactions are super-rare, and even when they do occur they’re typically easy to treat.

Published in the October, 2015 edition of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the study looked at a huge database of 17,606,500 visits for a total of 25,173,965 vaccines. This is seriously Big Data, people. After all of these vaccines, only 33 cases of a severe allergic reaction occurred. Even among those 33, only one child required hospitalization, and none died.

More reassurance: there were zero serious reactions among children less than four years of age. And most of the 33 reactions (85%) occurred in children who had a history of other allergic diseases.

Despite its rarity, anaphylaxis is a potentially serious reaction. If your child experiences a widespread rash, trouble breathing, severe GI symptoms, or fainting after a vaccine, it might be an allergic reaction – a medical evaluation is needed. Most of these reactions won’t turn out to be serious or life-threatening, but they do need attention. Almost all teenagers who faint after vaccines have just fainted, and will be fine, but they need to be watched and their blood pressure checked. If further evaluation shows it’s an allergic reaction, medical therapy given quickly can help stop the reaction.

But: we need to keep these reactions in perspective. They’re really phenomenally rare. 33 out of 25 million vaccines means that your children have a higher chance of being hurt in a car accident on the way to their appointment than of having a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine. Other, non-allergic but serious reactions are really very rare, too. The internet has made otherwise well-adjusted people into parents worried stiff over vaccines. Don’t let it happen to you. Don’t live in fear and worry. Immunizations save lives, they’re safe, and they’re something you don’t need to worry about.

Wemberly Worried

Zika update!

April 4, 2016

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

I last wrote about Zika in January*, and there’s a whole lot more we now know about this mosquito-borne virus. And still a lot we don’t know. Time for a Q&A-styled** update!

 

Give it to me straight, doc. Does Zika really cause birth defects?

Yes. As is typical for scientist-written press releases, early reports this winter were equivocal—you’d see phrases like “is associated with” or “likely caused by”. That’s because unlike pushers of GMO-free foods, real scientists try to respect the intelligence of their audience. Back then, it was clear that there was both a big spike in cases of Zika-associated illness during pregnancies (mostly in South America), and a big spike in cases of microcephaly and other neurologic birth defects. But did one cause the other?

More-recent reports have included evidence of Zika in the brain tissue of affected fetal brains, and also in the brain and nerve tissues of children and adults suffering from neurologic symptoms during Zika infections. It’s clear that Zika is a neurotropic virus – it likes to invade neurologic tissue.

We also know more about the structure of Zika. At the molecular level, we know it has a structure that interacts with brain cells. That is completely cool—we know exactly what the virus looks like and how its molecules are arranged. That’s one step away from designing a vaccine. All of this research was done in just a few months. Science!

 

Is Zika coming to America?

It’s already in America, dummy. South America, which (last time I looked) was part of America. Oh, you mean North America? Which includes Mexico? Which is also part of America? Maybe you should just start over.

 

Is Zika coming to the United States?

It’s already here. Zika-virus associated infections have been reported in almost every US State, though at least so far the only locally-acquired cases have been transmitted through sex. (No, not sex with mosquitoes, you sicko.)

 

OK, so that means as long as I don’t have sex with anyone who’s been traveling, I’m protected, right?

Maybe for now, but not for long. Over 300 cases of Zika have occurred in the continental US, and even more in our Caribbean territories. And the mosquitos that transmit ZIka, by mid-summer, will be found in a wide swath of the US, across the entire souther border, reaching up into Ohio and Missouri. It is only a matter of time before local mosquitos stare biting people with Zika infection, and then spreading it to other people.

 

 Yikes. I’m glad I’m not a pregnant woman!

So are we. We’ve seen the quality of your questions here, and frankly it would be better if you didn’t reproduce.

 

I meant I’m glad only pregnant women need to worry about infections. Right?

Nope. Pregnant women, and their unborn babies, are clearly at the highest risk. It looks like about 25% of the time, infection during pregnancy results in fetal damage—though that’s an estimate based on preliminary data.

We do know that most infections in otherwise-healthy children and adults result in no symptoms whatsoever. Probably only 1 in 4 or 5 people with Zika develop symptoms, which include fever, joint aches, and rash. But a small number of people also go on to develop serious complications, which can include brain inflammation or Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Though these conditions after Zika infection are rare, we really don’t know exactly what the risk is, or who’s likely to progress to serious Zika-related illness.

 

What should I do if I think I have a Zika virus infection?

Testing is available through public health agencies, and is routinely recommended for pregnant women living in or traveling to areas with active transmission. For the rest of us, health-care providers can help decide whether testing is needed. Go see your doctor.

 

What’s the best way to prevent infection?

Right now, there’s no vaccine, though one is actively being developed. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites and travel to areas with high rates of infection. You can find maps and other resources through the CDC Zika Prevention site.

The bottom line with mosquitoes: wear long sleeves and long pants, keep mosquitos out of homes with nets, screens, doors, and air conditioning, and use a mosquito repellant that actually works. Those typically contain the active ingredients DEET, picaridin, or “oil of lemon eucalyptus.” Of these, DEET is the standard—it’s been around since 1957, and it works, and as long as you don’t drink the stuff it’s safe.

 

*I wrote about it weeks before the story was picked up by the so-called “mainstream media.” Yet, still, no Pulitzer. Am I bitter? Of course not.

**Some “journalists” say slapping together a blog post in Q&A format shows laziness and a lack of creativity. Those people should go stick their journalistic heads in buckets of icy cold water. It’s Saturday morning, it’s beautiful outside, and you guys are getting get what you pay for. Srsly.

 

Coming to America

Spring is here! Allergy therapy update, 2016

March 24, 2016

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

Ah, spring. The birds are tweeting, the flowers are blooming… and there’s a layer of yellow dust all over my car. And a whole lot of sneezing and stuffy noses! Fortunately, there are some great medicines out there to help reduce the symptoms of spring allergies, and most of them are inexpensive and over-the-counter. So many choices! Here’s an updated guide to help you pick the medicines that are best to relieve your family’s suffering.

But first: before medications, remember non-medical approaches. People with allergies should shower and wash hair after being outside (though it’s not practical or good to just stay inside all spring!) You can also use nasal saline washes to help reduce pollen exposures.

Antihistamines are still very effective for sneezing, drippy noses, and itchy noses and eyes. The old standard is Benadryl (diphenhydramine), which works well—but it’s sedating and only lasts six hours. It’s better to use a more-modern, less-sedating antihistamine like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Claritin (loratidine), or Allergra (fexofenidine.) All of these are OTC and have cheapo generics. They work taken as-needed, or can be taken every day. Antihistamines don’t relieve congested or stuffy noses—for those symptoms, a nasal steroid spray (see below) is far superior.

There are a just a few differences between the modern, OTC antihistamines. All are FDA approved down to age 2, though we sometimes use them in younger children. They all come in syrups, pills, or melty-tabs. Zyrtec is the most sedating of the three (though far less than Benadryl). Zyrtec and Claritin are once a day, while Allegra, for children, has to be taken twice a day.

Decongestants work, too, but only for a few days—they will lose their punch quickly if taken regularly. Still, for use here and there on the worst days, they can help. The best of the bunch is old-fashioned pseudoephedrine (often sold as generics or brand-name Sudafed), available OTC but hidden behind the counter. Don’t buy the OTC stuff on the shelf (phenylephrine), which isn’t absorbed well. Ask the pharmacist to give you the good stuff hidden in back.

Nasal Steroid Sprays include OTCs Nasacort, Flonase, Rhinocort, and generic fluticasone (essentially identical to Flonase.) There are also many prescription versions of these, like Nasonex and Veramyst. All of these are essentially the same. They all work really well, especially for congestion or stuffiness (which antihistamines do not treat.) They can be used as needed, but work even better if used regularly every single day for allergy season.

Some minor distinctions: Nasacort is approved down to age 2, Flonase to 4, and Rhinocort to 6, though there’s no reason to think any are more or less safe for children. Flonase is scented (kind of an odd, flowery scent, which seems weird in an allergy medicine), and seems to be a little more burny to some people than the others.

Nasal oxymetazolone (brands like Afrin) are best avoided. Sure, they work—they actually work great—but after just a few days your nose will become addicted, and you’ll need more frequent squirts to get through the day. Just say no. Steroid nasal sprays, ironically, are much safer than OTC Afrin.

Eye allergy medications include the oral antihistamines, above; and the topical steroids can help with eye symptoms, too. But if you really want to help allergic eyes, go with an eye drop. The best of the OTCs is Zaditor.

Bottom line: for mild eye or nose symptoms, a simple oral antihistamine is probably the best first line. For more severe symptoms OR symptoms dominated by clogging and stuffiness, use a steroid nasal spray. You can also use both, in combination, an antihistamine PLUS a steroid spray, for really problematic symptoms. Anything not improving on that combo needs to see a doctor.

Spring!

Help fight childhood cancer!

March 7, 2016

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

On March 13, I’m getting my head shaved to help raise money to support children with cancer through the St. Baldrick’s foundation. I’d really appreciate any donations you’d like to give. It’s a great charity, and these are wonderful kids who can really use your help.

To donate or learn more about St. Baldricks, click here. Thanks!!

Resistant “superlice” cause outbreak of poor journalism

February 29, 2016

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

You’ve seen it on Facebook, Drudge, Yahoo News, and just about everywhere else—headlines like “Superlice outbreak hits 25 states” or “Super lice spreading across the US.” Makes you itchy just thinking about it, right?

But “the news” has gotten it wrong. They’re relying on an advertising piece written on behalf of a company that – guess what? – treats lice. Web sites are just regurgitating the same “story”, as if it’s news.

So what’s the story, really? The original spate of headlines began in August, 2015, right about the time when school started. The root of those stories, then, was a press release from the American Chemical Society, “Lice in at least 25 states show resistance to common treatments.” Researchers had collected lice from all over the country, and examined them for genetic changes that are linked to resistance to one of the most common over-the-counter lice treatments (pyrethrins, the active ingredient in “Rid”.) Sure enough, many of the samples included lice with one or more resistance factors. But there were some important caveats:

  • It’s not clear just how resistant the lice were, in practice. Knowing the genetics doesn’t predict what happens in real life.
  • Pyrethrin isn’t the only OTC lice treatment, just one of them.
  • The study itself hadn’t been published yet, and (as far as I can tell) is still not actually published.
  • The study was funded by Sanofi, a company that makes a prescription product that kills lice.

The excitement over that press release, and the dozens of news stories published in August about it, seemed to settle down until last week. Then, a fresh round of headlines appeared. These stories (for instance, here and here and here) all use very similar language, and segue in the second paragraph to talk about one specific alternative treatment for lice, highlighting the name of the product and place that sells it.

Is there any actual new news about this, since August? No. But a tag at the bottom of one of those stories gives us a clue – copyright “Frankly Media”, which is a public relations firm. These news stories, reappearing in dozens or maybe hundreds of places, are almost all word-for-word copies of what was a press release by an advertising agency for a specific product. The story, here, isn’t a new one. It’s just that someone wants to use unpublished research to scare you into buying something.

Lice themselves are a nuisance, yes, but keep in mind that they don’t spread disease, and don’t cause any symptoms other than an itchy scalp. There are several reasons why treatment of lice might not work:

  1. The child doesn’t actually have lice. This is very common. We know that many children who are diagnosed by school nurses or parents don’t actually have lice. If their scalps are itching for some other reason, lice therapy won’t “work.”
  1. Treatments aren’t used correctly, or aren’t repeated correctly. Some lice treatments need to be left on overnight, or applied to dry hair; almost all of them must be repeated in about 9 days. If the directions aren’t followed, lice treatments won’t be effective.
  1. Children get re-infested. Even after successful treatment, if a child returns to play with another kid with lice, the infestation will recur.
  1. Some lice really are resistant. We don’t know the exact percentage, but some lice aren’t responding as well to time-honored medications. We’ve known about this for at least 20 years. It’s not news. And there are both OTC and prescription alternatives, as well as non-medication based treatments that work very well.

All of this talk of “superlice” is overblown. Resistant lice don’t cause worse or “super” cases, and are easily treated with alternative approaches. Most lice can still be treated with any of a number of inexpensive OTC products, if used correctly. The only thing that’s spreading quickly are industries eager to make money off worried parents, and lazy websites re-publishing advertising copy in place of actual journalism.

toby determined

It’s time to rethink pertussis prevention

February 8, 2016

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

A large, sobering study published in the March, 2016 edition of Pediatrics illustrates just how far we still need to go to effectively control pertussis.

Pertussis, also known as ‘whooping cough’, is a serious illness. Older children and adults get to enjoy a horrible cough for about three months—a cough that sometimes makes people vomit, break ribs, or pass out. Seriously. You haven’t seen a “bad cough” until you’ve seen the cough of pertussis. Worse: in little babies pertussis can cause breathing problems, seizures, and death. Though its caused by a bacteria, antibiotics (unless given very early) are ineffective at reducing the length or severity of pertussis. Prevention, in this case, is worth far more than a pound of cure.

Up until the mid-1990s, infants and children routinely received the whole-cell DTP vaccine (DTP = diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis.) It worked at preventing all three of these diseases, but had a relatively high rate of side effects, mostly fevers. Many of the suspected more-serious side effects (like encephalopathy and seizures) are now known to have been caused by genetic conditions, not the vaccine, but nonetheless parents and doctors alike welcomed a newer vaccine, the acellular DTaP. This newer vaccine, which replaced DTP in the United States by around 1998, caused fewer fevers, and was thought to cause fewer serious reactions, too.

The problem is that it just doesn’t work as well. And as the first generation of infants to get an all-DTaP series starts to go through adolescence, we’re starting to see the unintended consequence of that vaccine change.

In the current study, researchers used a huge database of information from the Kaiser Permanente system of Northern California. We’re talking solid, big-data research, here, the kind of study that requires consistent and reliable data across a huge set of patients. In this case, about 3.5 million patients across 55 medical clinics and 20 hospitals, using centralized labs and an integrated medical records system. If health things happen to this population, Kaiser knows it.

In 2010 and again in 2014, California experienced large epidemics of pertussis. A total of 1207 cases were among Kaiser teenagers, all with complete records of their pertussis vaccination status. And the results aren’t anything to be happy about. In the first year after an adolescent pertussis (Tdap) booster, the vaccine was about 70% effective in protecting against pertussis. Not great, but not terrible, either – until you look a few days down the road. The vaccine effectiveness drops off dramatically, year after year, down to only about 9% by four years after receipt of the vaccine.

Why does Tdap seem to provide such poor protection—much worse than was seen in the original licensing studies? It’s a generational change, and it goes back to the shift from DTP to DTaP in the mid-1990s. By now, these teens in California are old enough to have received DTaP, not DTP, as infants. The authors looked at the specific ages of pertussis cases during the 2010 and 2014 outbreaks, and the trends support the conclusion that teens who received DTP as infants get good, lasting protection from Tdap; teens who got DTaP do not.

Now what? Clearly, we need a more-effective vaccine, perhaps even resuming the use of whole-cell pertussis vaccine, at least for the earlier doses. But in the meantime, we have to do the best we can with what we have. Vaccinating pregnant women with Tdap does effectively prevent pertussis in their babies, especially when they’re the youngest and most-vulnerable. And adults (who got DTP as children) should get Tdap boosters too, to protect the children around them. Another idea (floated by the study authors) is to use Tdap in teens not as a routine booster, but as a strategy to control local outbreaks, taking advantage of the higher effectiveness seen for the first year after vaccination.

I don’t have the answers. I’m not happy to see studies like these, but examining and re-examining vaccine safety and effectiveness is something we need to continue doing, with an open mind, relying on solid evidence. Bottom line: with pertussis, we need to do better.

Whooping crane


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,771 other followers