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How Medical Screening Can Save Your Child and Teen a Lifetime of Troubles

How Medical Screening Can Save Your Child and Teen a Lifetime of Troubles

A multitude of health conditions are going undiagnosed in children.

It sounds like great news: 93.6 percent of children and teens had contact with a health care professional in the past year. But what happened during that appointment? Chances are it lasted 10 minutes and the doc said, “Yup! Your kid has an ear infection, here’s a prescription,” or “Here’s your Tdap booster,” and it’s out the door. That’s unfortunate because there are several important screening tests that a child or teen may need that can help them learn, laugh and thrive.

In depth allergy testing: For young kids with a skin allergy (10-20 percent have eczema/atopic dermatitis), it’s common to acquire more allergies during their first five years. Docs call this the Allergic March (not the month, it can happen all year ‘round) and it often starts with a skin allergy and then is followed by an anaphylactic food allergy and a respiratory allergy.

According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, when kids have those three allergies, they’re three times more likely to develop a little-recognized allergy called eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a painful inflammation of the esophagus. It’s not an anaphylactic food allergy (whew!), but can cause painful swallowing, stomachache or even problems with food becoming lodged in the esophagus. Often, say the researchers who looked at data on more than 130,000 kids, it goes undiagnosed well into a child’s teens. An elimination diet may help ID the offending food. Treatment can include steroids to reduce esophageal inflammation.

If you have a child who struggles with multiple allergies and has symptoms related to swallowing, indigestion or stomachaches, ask your allergist to test for EoE.

Obesity screening: Children six and older should be screened for obesity, so they can start treatment, including nutritional and activity recommendations. This is vital because childhood obesity affects 17 percent of US kids and teens and is a gateway condition to everything from premature diabetes, hypertension and heart disease to asthma, depression and orthopedic problems.

And now an alarming study published in Lancet Public Health has found the incidence of six obesity-related cancers—colorectal, endometrial, pancreatic, gallbladder, kidney and multiple myeloma—has increased in young adults in the past 20 years as more children grow up obese. Millennials have about double the risk of those cancers compared to Baby Boomers at the same age.

Unfortunately, parents don’t see their child’s obesity: One survey found 81 percent of parents of obese/overweight kids thought they were a healthy weight.

Parents need to be open to asking the doctor: “Can you tell me if my child is overweight or obese?” “What can you prescribe that will help me help cure the disease?” ‘Cause, Mom and Dad, it’s almost always curable.

Mental health/depression screening: Eleven percent of kids 12 to 17 report having at least one major depressive episode in the past year. And among kids as young as eight to 15, two percent of boys and four percent of girls report a major depressive episode. Based on the 2017 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey, 7.4 percent of youth in grades 9-12 reported that they had made at least one suicide attempt in the past 12 months.

That leads the US Preventive Services Task Force to recommend that all kids 12 and older be screened for depression—and those younger, on a case by case basis.

Only 36 and 44 percent of children and adolescents with depression now receive treatment. That’s because it can be hard to tell moodiness from more serious emotional problems. So, ask your child’s doc to evaluate his or her risk for depression and recommend a therapist if needed.  One study found the combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication produced a positive response in 71 percent of adolescents.

You want to give your kids the best chance to negotiate the health challenges they may face growing up. Talk to your doctor about what will extend your umbrella of care.

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