Lice, Pinkeye and 6 More Back-to-School Problems

Lice, Pinkeye and 6 More Back-to-School Problems

These gross schoolhouse issues should be on every parent's radar.

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By Olivia DeLong 

Summer is over and school is in session. Book bags are packed, carpool is scheduled and you’re ready for the school year. Not so fast. Most parents probably would agree that no matter what your child’s age, back to school means back to germs. Find out which germs or bugs your kids could bring home, plus ways to treat them. 

Head Lice

2 / 9 Head Lice

What it is: A tiny, wingless bug that sucks human blood. They can live on a person’s scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes. Adult louse look like sesame seeds; eggs are oval and located near the scalp. Lice aren’t known to spread disease.

Symptoms: An itchy scalp, caused by the lice crawling on the host’s head or from bites, is a tell tale sign of lice. If your child is scratching their head incessantly, do a visual check for lice or eggs on the scalp and hair.

How it’s spread: The most common cause of transmission is direct contact with an infected person’s hair. You can also contract lice by coming into contact with bug- or egg-infested bedding, combs, brushes and clothing.

Treatment: Over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription meds and shampoos can remove head lice. You’ll also need to clean anything the infected person’s head touched in the two days before treatment, such as bed linens and brushes. Wash bed linens and other clothes in hot water; dry on high heat. Vacuum infested carpets and furniture.

What to do: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that schools send infected kids home at the end of the day. Kids can return to school after starting treatment. To prevent the possible spread of lice, kids should avoid head-to-head contact. They shouldn’t share items like hats or brushes.

Pink Eye

3 / 9 Pink Eye

What it is: A pink or red, inflamed eye caused by bacteria, viruses, irritants or allergies.

Symptoms: Pain, itching, swelling, burning, discharge and redness of the eye are common conjunctivitis symptoms. You can have other symptoms depending on the cause of your conjunctivitis, for example, viral versus bacterial.

How it’s spread: Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious. You can contract pinkeye by touching or shaking hands with an infected person or from touching a contaminated surface, then touching your eyes.

Treatment: Mild cases may get better on their own, but take your child to the pediatrician if symptoms get worse, if there’s moderate or severe pain, intense redness, blurred vision or sensitivity to light. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic drops or ointment.

What to do: Your child can return to class after 24 hours of treatment for bacterial pink eye, but could miss up to a week of school with viral pink eye. Teach your child to wash their hands often to prevent infection.

Body Odor

4 / 9 Body Odor

What it is: As your child goes through puberty, you may notice body odor making its smelly debut. Girls begin puberty between ages 8 to 13; boys between ages 9 to 15. And while BO may seem like no big deal, it can lead to embarrassment and self-consciousness.

What to do: If your child’s gym clothes are extra smelly these days, it’s time to have a talk about deodorant and antiperspirants. Deodorants can help mask body odors while antiperspirants control perspiration. Healthy hygiene habits like regular showers and changing clothes frequently can also help reduce odor. 


5 / 9 Ringworm

What it is: This fungal infection is caused by parasites that live on skin cells. It develops in moist places such as skin creases, the groin, in between toes, and on the nails and scalp.

Symptoms: Ringworm symptoms can vary depending on where they appear on the body. In general, ringworm is described as a red, scaly rash in the shape of a ring. If ringworm is on the scalp, it’ll look like a scaly, red bald spot. This type of ringworm is more common in kids than it is in adults. Athlete’s foot, or ringworm on the feet, appears as red, peeling skin between the toes.

How it’s spread: Ringworm can spread through infected people and animals such as cats and dogs. Ringworm can also survive on surfaces like showers and locker rooms.

Treatment: Your doctor may suggest prescription or OTC anti-fungal creams or medications depending on severity. After 48-hours of treatment, it’s no longer contagious. Ringworm of the scalp must be treated with a prescription antifungal medication.

What to do: Your child can go to school, but make sure they wear clothes that cover the infected area.


6 / 9 Pinworms

What it is:  Pinworms are tiny parasites that can live in the colon and rectum. You contract pinworms when you swallow their eggs. They’re about the length of a staple and can spread easily.

Symptoms: Itching and irritation around the anus, especially at night.

How it’s spread: Pinworms are spread through the fecal-oral route. If an infected person touches their anus, the eggs can stick to their fingertips. Infection can spread through hands, clothes, bedding and even food. Eggs can survive on surfaces for up to two weeks.

Treatment: Your doctor may recommend that the entire family take OTC or prescription meds. You should also wash all sheets, pajamas and underwear in hot water, and clean surfaces like toys and toilet seats, too.

What to do: While your child can still attend school, they should skip out on sleepovers during—and two weeks after—treatment to avoid reinfection. To prevent infection or reinfection, kids should wash their hands often, shower before bed and change underwear daily.

Bad Breath

7 / 9 Bad Breath

What it is: Have you noticed your child has “morning breath” all day? They might not be brushing or flossing their teeth correctly. Tongue coating, gingivitis and tooth decay are all caused by a lack of brushing or flossing, which will intensify the embarrassing odor and wreak havoc on your kids’ oral health.

What to do: The American Dental Association recommends you help kiddos ages six and under brush their teeth (or brush them yourself) with a pea-size amount of toothpaste, two times a day. Kids over the age of six should learn to brush their own teeth twice a day for at least two minutes.


8 / 9 Acne

What it is: About 8 in 10 teens have acne, which can zap self-confidence and cause embarrassment. Acne causes pimples, blackhead or whiteheads to form. The exact cause of acne is unknown, but hormonal changes are thought to play a role. 

What to do: If you notice acne, talk to your child’s doctor or dermatologist about the best treatment. Your child should also gently wash the infected area once to twice a day. They should also avoid touching their face. Your doctor may prescribe creams, lotions or pills to keep acne under control, as well as prevent scarring.

Excess Sweat

9 / 9 Excess Sweat

What it is: Excessive sweating, also called hyperhidrosis, usually occurs in the hands, feet, underarms or face, and worsens during stressful situations or warm weather.

Symptoms: If your child is sweating even when it’s cold outside, or if he has difficulty holding objects or using touch screens because of perspiration, they may have hyperhidrosis.

What to do: Talk to your doctor about your child’s excessive sweating. Non-surgical treatment options include prescription-strength antiperspirants or oral medications, low-voltage electrical therapy and even Botox. In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery if other treatments haven’t worked.