Teens and Tats

I don’t at all get the piercings and tattoos.  But why would I?  I’m 61 and a grandfather: this is not from my era.  However, that does not make it “bad” or “wrong.” For my generation it was love beads, long hair and sideburns, and bell bottoms.  As children advance to adolescence and young adulthood, its normal to endeavor to express one’s unique identity.  Often that entails some breaking of those conventions that these young people associate with established, parental authority.  By itself, this is not at all unhealthy and I counsel parents to maintain a light touch and give your emerging young adult significant freedom to chose here.

Please allow me to add that, given the above, I also think it fair for you to inform your teen seeking body modification that they are free to make their decisions about their bodies and they are also free to pay for those choices themselves–you parents who are disinclined are under no financial obligation in these areas.  Freedom cuts both ways–right?

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine reviewed current data on this fashion phenomenon.  Among its findings:

  • Current data no longer supports the concept that body modification occurs primarily among high risk youth and it should not be confused with non-suicidal self injury.
  • Body piercing jewelry generally consists of hoops, rings, studs, or barbell shapes and are made of stainless steel, gold, niobium, titanium, or alloys.  Most piercing guns are not sterilized.
  • Scarification creates words and images in the skin through cutting, burning, branding.  Artist experience in this field is quite variable, so caution is advised
  • Carefully monitor the establishment for essential hygiene: sterile gloves, use only equipment from freshly opened packages, sterile needles, use only fresh, unused ink poured into sterile containers
  • Adolescents should understand that visible body modification may negatively effect employment prospects
  • Serious complications are uncommon but include inflammation, bacterial or viral infections at the site, infected blood vessels at the site(rare)– typically 4-22 days after placement
  • “Q switched” laser is the preferred method
  • Cleanse new oral piercings with nonprescription oral cleansers (mouthwash).  Tongue piercings have a high rate of tooth chipping
  • Healing times are –clitoris, urethral meatus, tongue 2-6 wks; nipples 2-4 months; 9 months for navel or head of penis
  • Up to 35% of ear piercings develop mild complications including pain, bleeding, bruising, cysts, allergic reactions, hypertrophic scars (keloids). Scarification techniques carries similar risks
  • Children with diabetes, HIV, cystic fibrosis, or taking immunosuppressive agents are at increased risk for complications.

So let’s be safe.  But remember: you nurtured that little child so that (s)he can grow up to be a free thinking, independent, and autonomous person in their own right.  This is very much of that process, so it is to be managed but cherished as an important part of their growth, development, and self actualization.  As the French say–c’est la vie!!

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Chronic Lyme’s symptoms–unorthodox treatment

A recent newspaper column published locally highlighted a child with serious health problems that was being treated as chronic lyme disease.  The author complained that the influential Infectious Disease Society of America “has declined to recognize” chronic lyme, spoke of “discrimination against an illness,” noting that “none of them(doctors) want to do anything.” The article goes on to review the prolonged course of antibiotic treatment being administered.  It’s  noteworthy that the article states that the child is improving with ongoing medicine but even there it only speculates as to when the child will be well enough to return to regular activities like school.

There’s a lot here.  Firstly there’s a sick child and a family seeking answers, let alone treatment.  We know that following treatment under accepted guidelines up to 20% of patients persist with unclear and nonspecific complaints (headaches, fatigue, insomnia, weakness, recurring illnesses) >6 months after completion of therapy–so called post treatment lyme disease syndrome.  I have witnessed during my career how doctors at all levels of expertise have–with usually (but not always) pure motives–identified and treated patients with these troubling problems with vague terms like chronic lyme, chronic mono or EBV, chronic fatigue, reactive hypoglycemia, and others.  I am not arguing whether these are “actual” diseases or not.  I am no expert in this area.  These people are suffering and need real help.

The problem is–how do we help? One very fair criticism of American medicine is its wastefulness–up to $900 billion/year according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association–much on unsubstantiated or unnecessary care.  Beyond the monetary costs is unproved treatments can do worse than nothing and sometimes cause actual harm.  I myself have personally treated children with serious complications after unapproved prolonged antibiotic therapy. Studies in the New England Journal of Medicine have found no benefit to this approach. Yet its use persists.

And that’s the thing.  It isn’t that nobody wants to do anything or wants to “discriminate” or “not recognize.”  Its hard to do it RIGHT–to be effective AND safe.  Anecdotal reports and personal testimonials–no matter how dramatic and heartfelt–are insufficient.  We need scientific studies–“controlled” (one group untreated for comparison) and “double blind”(neither subject nor studier knows who is in which group; this removes observation bias); peer reviewed (other experts look over the experiments to assess methods, accuracy, etc); and reproducible results (different studiers, similar outcomes).  That information is simply lacking with these various unorthodox lyme’s therapies.

Anybody who claims that scientists back each other up and cover for their peers clearly doesn’t know how these scholars operate.  They live to criticize each other.   Its very much how they define themselves.

So what do we do? When people are struggling in these confusing and debilitating situations, we must listen to them and work to figure out how to help.  We must give answers and we must be honest that sometimes the answer is “I don’t know.”  We should intervene where and how we can, but based on carefully gathered evidence.  With the oath we doctors take we promise to “first do no harm”–endeavor to never hurt the patient: the cure must never be worse than the disease. And these are exactly the situations where we must take those words closest to heart.

Thanks for following.

Flu shots 2017

Public health can be so hard.  Obesity, alcoholism, narcotic abuse–each a difficult and terrible scourge on our society.  Zika virus causing birth defects is a growing concern.

What do we as a nation do?  How do we design programs to address these issues?  How much money do we spend and where do we spend it?  Governments, businesses, academics, and nonprofits all devote great energies to try and solve these problems.  I’m proud that my own daughter received a Masters degree in the field and is devoting her professional life to the public health fight against cancer.

Each year from October through April anywhere from 5-20% of the US population contracts influenza; hospitalization rates are 34/100,000 population (14/100,000 ages 0-4).  The number of deaths is somewhat controversial (it depends on how the treating doctor classifies the terminal illnesses) but estimates range around 36,000 annually.  In 2016 there were 20 pediatric deaths but as recently as ’09 358 children died of flu. The flu costs the US economy $87 billion annually PLUS $16.3 billion in lost earnings.  Flu shots prevent approximately 48% of flu caused doctor visits annually, yet only 46% of Americans are immunized for influenza each year.  

So sometimes public health isn’t so difficult and is, in fact, quite straightforward.  Get your family immunized for influenza.  I have covered this topic previously and I invite you to review the information from those posts here and here.

Our flu shots are in.  Please give my office a call and schedule your children to be immunized.  This will benefit your entire family–especially your own parents and grandparents–as well as your friends, neighbors, and our entire community.

Call me with questions and thanks for following.


We pediatricians spend a good part or our time encouraging young mothers to breastfeed your babies.  The list of advantages to both mother and baby is long and worth reviewing.  Still, there are pitfalls.  Let’s review some of the challenges that mothers face, what it means, and what you can do about it.

  • “Grandpa lips”–the baby’s lips are tucked under as the child does not open her mouth wide enough, resulting in poor latch.  Untuck baby’s lips and consider start feeding before the baby is too awake and alert which may make latching easier.
  • Discomfort in the first few days of nursing is often caused by high sucking pressure.  Lanolin to the nipples; sometimes deep breathing can provide some relief.
  • If baby pulls off gagging and/or with milk squirting from the nipple this can be milk “oversupply.” Try nursing while lying on your back to better control milk flow.
  • Baby’s tongue doesn’t extend beyond the gums? Sometimes this is “tongue tie.” It is usually a benign condition; however in some instances where the baby is causing Mom pain a “frenulectomy” can be performed.  This is a simple procedure where the skin under the tongue is clipped which frees the tongue to be extended more naturally
  • If baby bites late in the nursing episode, this is often his way of saying “I’m full,” so a good place to stop.
  • A white bleb at the tip of the nipple can be a “bleb” and can be simply and gently lanced by your doctor
  • Pink tinged nipples, itching and “shooting” pains can be a candida yeast infection.  See your doctor and me for treatment for mother and baby.
  • Dry, scaly rash on the nipple can be eczema, especially if you have a history of allergies. OTC or prescription creams can help manage this problem.
  • Blisters on the nipple can be herpes.  Do not feed on that side until lesions dry up.
  • If nipples are very sensitive and sometimes change color in response to cold that can be a variation of Reynaud’s phenomenon and should be evaluated by your doctor.
  • If you experience soreness and redness in your breast beyond the nipple area this can be  mastitis and should be evaluated by your doctor.

All of our area hospitals take great pride and dedicate significant resources to assist new mothers to successfully breast feed their new babies.  Be sure to keep in touch with your hospital’s lactation consultants.  They are devoted to helping you raise a healthy baby.  So give them a call–they want to hear from you!

Or you can call your ob or me, and thanks for following.

Infants with reflux–medication risk

I have touched on this subject before so I’m sorry to “go on” a bit.  However, the subject–the use of medications for babies with reflux–is very important, and there is some significant new information that I wish to share, so here goes.

Another large study now demonstrates additional risks of side effects besides those previously reported with the use of certain medications in the management of reflux in the first year of life: “PPI’s (proton pump inhibitors) like prilosec (omeprazole) or prevacid (lansoprazole) and the more commonly used “H2 (histamine type 2 receptor) blockers” like zantac (ranitidine).

The study reviewed cases in 874,447 children born between 2001-13 in the US Military System who had taken the above medicines in the first year of life and were followed for at least 2 years afterwards (so they had really good records and really good follow up). The children tended to be at least slightly premature and of lower birth weight.  Children who took PPI’s had on average a 23% greater risk of bone fractures and those receiving H2 blockers had 13% greater risk.  Taking both increased the risk by 32%; those who had one fracture had an increased risk of repeat fracture by a whopping 85%.  The risk was slightly greater in boys and the majority of the children received these medications in the first 6 months of life.  Longer treatment was associated with increasing risk.  For PPI’s, <1mo treatment had 19% increased risk, 23% for 60-150 days, and >150 days the risk was 42% greater.  For H2’s  the numbers were < 1 mo 14% greater risk, > 120 days of treatment demonstrated 22% increased risk.  Children who received both medications for > 9 months had a 50% greater risk of bone fractures.

These drugs are not infrequently prescribed for symptoms such as fussiness, poor feeding, arching, or frequent spitting up/vomiting.  Yet controlled double blind studies have not shown any discernible benefit for these symptoms from their use–children who receive placebos or no medicines appear to do just as well over time.  Now, I do not wish to imply that there is no place whatsoever to ever consider these treatments for children with some of those problems.  Nevertheless, we must remember that these are not benign medicines, as noted here; additionally, we should recall the other established risks from GER medicines in infants like malabsorption and poor weight gain, increased risk of infections like pneumonia, and kidney inflammation.  Let’s take the conservative, more natural approach for the large majority of children who’s symptoms are mild to moderate and will be well managed that way, and in particular for those “happy spitters”–the little kids who barf all over everybody and everything while happily growing and developing normally.

For babies with more severe and disruptive symptoms, give me a call and let’s discuss it.  And thanks for following.





Vaccines, Loss, Grief

The tragic loss of a young child from our area.  A father’s bottomless grief.  A social media cri de coeur.  All combine to drive a recent increased local trend toward questioning the validity and safety of childhood vaccinations.

As a physician and in personal life I have on several occasions reluctantly witnessed the catastrophe of a parent losing a child.  No human should have to endure such an ordeal; any compassionate person would feel the greatest empathy for someone in the throes of that awful experience.

However, we should make health decisions based on facts, not emotions.  The facts here are definitive.  I know essentially nothing about the recent incident in our community but it was reported that the child was immunized weeks before he died.  To establish a meaningful causal link between the 2 events, especially given that time frame, would be most difficult, and would require extensive scientific analysis that would take a significant amount of time.  The effectiveness of vaccines in preventing severe illness and in saving millions of lives and the evidence of their safety from serious problems in all but the remotest of circumstances (if measurable at all) is overwhelming.  The studies that have been conducted in the US and worldwide and are far too extensive to review here.  That Mt. Everest of data on the subject is simply too big to dismiss.  And to postulate a profit driven conspiracy to hide some contrary “facts” would entail believing in a plot that is large enough to encompass multiple countries across several major industries including millions of people.  Kind of hard to keep such a thing a secret.

The consequences of doubt and avoidance are often severe.  There are still outbreaks of vaccine preventable illnesses throughout the US and the world and so many of those are caused by suboptimal immunization rates.  Children are disabled, disfigured, or die as a result.  We can absolutely establish a causal link between under or lack of immunization and these tragedies.  Clearly these children are just as dead, and their families’ grief just as horrific, as our most unfortunate neighbor now must sadly face.

So let’s use our emotions–those of us who share this man’s life–to support him and his family as the try and bear the unbearable, and carry them on to a future where they may one day rediscover joy.  It is our duty to our fellow human beings.   But let’s use our brains to make policy choices that impact our children’s wellness based on facts carefully uncovered and reliably reproducible.  The only really productive way to deal with child loss is to do our best–based on reality– to limit its occurrence.

I encourage all of my patients with questions regarding vaccines and their children to bring those concerns to my attention.  Educating my patients about the advantages of immunizations and making them comfortable with that choice is among my most essential duties as your pediatrician.

And thanks for following.

Safe cribs

As Kim and I are now blessed to have recently become grandparents, the forever pediatric issue of safe infant sleep now has renewed personal urgency for me.  In a 2012 policy statement the American Academy of Pediatrics urged parents to avoid soft bedding objects like pillows or bumpers in the crib with young infants.  In a study examining 1985-2012 researchers reported that infant suffocation in cribs, while rare(about 77 cases in that period), were almost always associated with bumpers: 2/3 caused by the bumpers themselves and the rest when the infant became tangled between the bumper and another object like a pillow or toy.  There were an additional 146 nonlethal choking and near suffocations also all associated with bumpers in that time period.

Parents who use bumpers usually express concerns about avoiding head injury or limb entrapment.  However, young infants lack both the strength and the coordination to slam their heads against the crib with enough force to cause any significant injury.  And while it is rarely possible for a limb to get stuck between the slats, it is virtually impossible for this to result in a fracture or any other serious arm or leg injury–so the worst that could likely occur is an uncomfortable and upsetting, but ultimately essentially harmless, experience.

So the basic recommendations are:

• To prevent suffocation, never place pillows or thick quilts in a baby’s sleep environment.

• Make sure there are no gaps larger than two fingers between the sides of the crib and the mattress.

• Proper assembly of cribs is paramount – Follow the instructions provided and make sure that every part is installed correctly. If you are not sure, call the manufacturer for assistance.

• Do not use cribs older than 10 years or broken or modified cribs. Infants can strangle to death if their bodies pass through gaps between loose components or broken slats while their heads remain entrapped.

• Set up play yards properly according to manufacturers’ directions. Only use the mattress pad provided with the play yard; do not add extra padding.

• Never place a crib near a window with blind, curtain cords or baby monitor cords; babies can strangle on cords.

The consumer Product Safety Commission recently reviewed the data and added these additional concerns regarding the use of crib bumpers:

  • They limit mattress space
  • Cover key failure points in the crib
  • are difficult to install
  • frequently used in older infants beyond even the manufacturer’s recommended age
  • used outside cribs
  • sends mixed signals about padded objects in crib

So we pediatricians usually advise that “bare is best:” a flat, firm mattress without pillows or toys, no crib bumpers or thick quilts or blankets.  Young infants can wear a head cap and be swaddled in a receiving blanket and older infants can just use warm pajamas for comfort.

For more information check out the following:




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