How clean is too clean?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Common knowledge and previous studies generally agree that children who grow up in the inner city and are exposed to mouse allergens, roach allergens and air pollutants are more likely to develop asthma and allergies. But a recent study adds a new twist — children exposed to these substances in their first year of life actually had lower rates of asthma and allergies. However, if these allergens were first encountered after age one, this protective effect did not exist.

Another study parallels this one, concluding that children growing up on farms also have lower allergy and asthma rates. Scientists argue that farm children are regularly exposed to microbes and allergens at an early age, leading to this same protective effect.

Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children. One in five Americans, or 60 million people, has asthma and allergies. In the industrialized world, allergic diseases have been on the rise for more than 50 years. Worldwide, 40-50 percent of school-age children are sensitive to one or more common allergens. Continue reading

Tips to help children have a fun and safe Halloween

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s almost Halloween again. Before sending your little ones out in search of candy, consider the following to ensure that he or she has a trick-free Halloween:

  • Don’t buy a costume unless it’s labeled “flame-retardant.”
  • Make sure that wigs and “beards” don’t cover your child’s eyes, nose or mouths.
  • Encourage your child to choose a costume without a mask. Masks can make it difficult for your child to breathe. Use face paint instead.
  • Suggest a light-colored costume for your child, or add glow-in-the dark tape on the front and back of a dark costume.
  • Avoid oversized or high-heeled shoes that can cause your child to trip and fall.
  • Make sure that accessories, such as swords or wands are flexible.
  • Put a name tag with your phone number on or inside your child’s costume.

If your child will be trick or treating: Continue reading

Smoke alarms dramatically raise fire survival rate

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

October is fire prevention month. According to the National Fire Protection Association, a home structure fire was reported every 87 seconds in 2009.

When a fire starts in a wooden home, the inhabitants often have no more than minutes to escape. Confusion about what to do wastes those valuable minutes. Early warning given by smoke alarms is very important. Fire alarms dramatically increase the survival rate of all of the family. Two-thirds of home fires that kill children 5 and younger occur in homes without a working smoke alarm.

Make sure you change your battery when daylight saving time changes late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Parents should install an alarm on each level of the home and outside bedrooms or other sleeping areas. Remember to test alarms monthly and change batteries at least once a year — preferably twice, at biannual time changes. If an infant sleeps in a separate room, place an alarm in the room. Keep the door closed to protect against the smoke of a hallway fire. Use a baby monitor to hear it if the alarm sounds. Continue reading

Start reading to your child by 6 weeks old

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Learning disabilities are best defined as the failure of the child to learn subject matter despite adequate intelligence, instruction and motivation.

Although learning disabilities can occur in mathematics, written expression, language problems and information processing, most children with a learning disability have a problem with learning to read.

Reading disabilities can be more devastating than other learning problems because there is less available to help the learner, such as a calculator or spell check.

There are three types of reading disabilities:

Deficits in sound-symbol association, also known as the dyslexic type of reading disability, means the child has tremendous difficulty sounding out words. These children have difficulty in recognizing that the written symbols have a certain sound. They have trouble recognizing the symbols or sounds within words. They have trouble with creating rhyming words. Some children have trouble remembering to read from top to bottom and from left to right. They may start at the end of a word reading “saw” instead of “was.” This type of reading disability is sometimes inherited. Continue reading

Recommendations on bicycle safety for kids

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

The following are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on bicycle safety:

Do not push your child to ride a 2-wheeled bike without training wheels until he or she is ready.

Consider the child’s coordination and desire to learn to ride. Stick with coaster (foot) brakes until your child is older and more experienced for hand brakes. Consider a balance bike with no pedals for young children to learn riding skills.

Take your child with you when you shop for the bike so that he or she can try it out. The value of a properly fitting bike far outweighs the value of surprising your child with a new one. Buy a bike that is the right size, not one your child has to “grow into.” Oversized bikes are especially dangerous.

Your child needs to wear a helmet on every bike ride, no matter how short or how close to home. Many injuries happen in driveways, on sidewalks, and on bike paths, not just on streets. Children learn best by observing you. Set the example: Whenever you ride, put on your helmet.


When purchasing a helmet, look for a label or sticker that says the helmet meets the CPSC safety standard.

A helmet protects your child from serious injury and should always be worn. And remember, wearing a helmet at all times helps children develop the helmet habit.

A helmet should be worn so that it is level on the head and covers the forehead, not tipped forward or backward. The strap should be securely fastened with about two fingers able to fit between the chin and strap.

The helmet should be snug on the head but not overly tight. Skin should move with the helmet when moved side to side. If needed, the helmet sizing pads can help improve the fit.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

There are various treatment options for childhood cancers

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

During the last two weeks, we’ve discussed what cancer is and some of the common types of childhood cancers.

This week, we discuss the various treatment options, how they work and some of the side effects.

Doctors have three main treatment strategies to treat cancer: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Depending on the type of cancer and how much it has spread, the overall treatment may combine several of the different kinds of therapy.

We’ve found it useful to explain cancer treatment with an analogy many people can easily relate to — fighting weeds in your yard.

When you discover a small cluster of weeds in the middle of your yard, you can probably successfully get rid of them by digging around the offending patch and pulling them out by the roots. Continue reading

3 main types of childhood cancer

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 10,000 children younger than 15 years old in the United States are diagnosed with various kinds of cancer each year.

Last week, we discussed what cancer is and how it begins when microscopic cells that make up a normal body part start growing out of control.

This week, we discuss some of the different types of childhood cancer.

Leukemias are the most common, accounting for about one-third of all childhood cancers.

Leukemia is a type of cancer that originates from white blood cells, which normally help fight infection.

Leukemia generally begins in the bone marrow where blood cells are formed, but eventually the cancerous cells are released out into the bloodstream, so there is no distinct tumor. Continue reading

Childhood cancer is random mistake in DNA instructions

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

The word cancer certainly strikes a scary and emotional note in our hearts, and when attached to the word childhood, it can be especially frightening.

However, as with many things we fear, we can be empowered by understanding. This week, we explain just exactly what cancer really is.

Every part of the body — the brain, liver, heart, bones, fingernails, muscles and so on — is made up of hundreds of millions of microscopic cells that are specialized for that particular organ.

These cells follow a very complex and highly organized instruction set from their DNA to multiply, grow and eventually die and become replaced throughout our entire lifetimes.

Occasionally, however, the instruction set becomes damaged as it is copied into newly formed cells. Usually our bodies can recognize cells with damaged DNA and repairs or destroys them. Continue reading

Prevent birth defects with a healthy diet

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

Pregnancy is a time in which nutrition is very important for the health of both mother and baby.

Women who are pregnant are encouraged to eat healthy diets with a variety of food groups. A recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that mothers who ate higher quality diets had fewer babies with spina bifida and cleft lip or palate.

This study shows the importance of eating a varied high quality diet. Pregnancy is also a time in which certain vitamins are particularly important to promote a baby’s growth and development.

Continue reading

Reading an easy way to shape a better life

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I have always been an incessant reader. Throughout my life, the world has entered my mind and experience through words.

New places and persons, extraordinary ideas, philosophies, faiths, art and all the panoply of what is available through literature has been instantly available to me though books and magazines.

It is even more so now through electronic sources. As a kid, summer vacations occasioned biweekly trips to the Phoenix Public Library where I would check out the maximum allowable 10 books.

Biographies of famous people like Thomas Edison, outdoorsmen like Kit Carson and Teddy Roosevelt served to inspire and keep me busy during hot summer days. Novels, nonfiction and hobby themes abounded as well in my reading lists. Continue reading