With school getting into full gear, children’s health issues are on parents’ radar. Dr. Saad Saad, a noted pediatric surgeon based in Eatontown, New Jersey, answers many questions from parents concerned about sports. Should we let our kids play football? What if there’s a head injury? What should we do? What should we expect from doctors?
Vaccinations are another hot topic, amid heated online discussions led by “anti-vaxxers” who claim vaccines are actually harming children. What’s the truth? Do we have an alternative to vaccines? Are vaccines really necessary? What’s the harm of skipping a vaccination?
In this article, Dr. Saad Saad shares the latest research on these vital questions. His intent is to provide concerned parents with advice they can trust in making critical decisions regarding their children’s healthcare.
Critical Issue #1: Concussions & Children
Recently, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first guidelines to outline treatment for children with concussions, which serves to provide parents, coaches, and doctors with information to ensure the best outcomes for young people with mild traumatic brain injury, Dr. Saad reports.
Research has shown that repeated blows to the head, such as from playing football or heading a soccer ball, can lead to long-term memory loss, dementia and other serious health issues.
What exactly is a concussion?
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, jolt, or blow to the head, explains Dr. Saad Saad. The injury can also occur when a hit to the body causes the head (and brain) to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement causes the brain to bounce or twist, even stretch, causing damage to brain cells.
Concussions are serious even though they are not life-threatening, says Dr. Saad. Even a “mild” brain injury can cause serious effects.
Dangerous signs of a concussion:
One pupil larger than the other
Drowsiness or inability to wake up
Headache gets worse and won’t go away
Slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
Repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures (shaking or twitching).
Unusual behavior, restlessness, increased confusion, or agitation
Loss of consciousness (even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously)
Children and teens who have any of these symptoms may have a concussion, explains Dr. Saad Saad. If the child claims they “just don’t feel right” after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, they may have a concussion or more serious brain injury.
Typically, signs of concussion show up soon after the injury. However, in some cases symptoms don’t show up until several hours or days later. Or, the child or teen might be dazed at first, then an hour later have no memory of getting hurt.
Parents should keep checking for signs of concussion several days after the injury. Take the child to an emergency room If any concussion signs get worse.
Recovery from concussion
The child should take it easy the first few weeks after injury. Limit physical activities as well as school. Encourage naps and sleep.
Within a couple of weeks, the child should feel better, although in some cases symptoms can last for a month or longer, advises Dr. Saad Saad. Concussion symptoms may reappear during the normal healing process or as your child returns to regular activities. If symptoms concern you or are getting worse, seek medical care right away.
If symptoms do not occur during an activity, then the activity is OK for them, advises Dr. Saad Saad. If symptoms worsen, the child should engage inless of that activity. Each concussion is unique, so the child’s recovery should be customized based on symptoms.
Talk with your doctor if symptoms continue or worsen when the child returns to regular activities. This is called post-concussive syndrome, explains Dr. Saad, and while it rarely occurs after one concussion, post-concussive syndrome is common with multiple concussions.
Getting back to school
Dr. Saad Saad explains that most kids might need a little help recovering from a concussion. However, when there are ongoing symptoms, a variety of formal support services may be necessary. Your school district may be able to help.
It’s common for a child or teen to feel frustrated, sad, even angry if they cannot return to their regular activities right away. Try to be supportive and encouraging.
Returning to sports and activities
An athlete who has had a concussion should only return to sports/practices when the doctor has approved, advises Dr. Saad Saad. Parents should work closely with the team’s certified athletic trainer.
The return to sports should be gradual, with parents and coaches watching for concussion symptoms after each activity.
The athlete should move to the next step when they have no new symptoms, Dr. Saad explains. If symptoms return – or if new symptoms develop – the athlete is pushing too hard. Stop these activities and contact the doctor. When the athlete has no more concussion symptoms, it is OK to resume the activity.
Schedule for returning to physical activity:
First Level: Light activities
With the doctor’s approval, return will be in stages. After a few days of rest (2-3 days), light activity (short walks) and moderate activity (riding a stationary bike) are allowed if they don’t cause worse symptoms.
Second Level: Light aerobic activity
Begin with light aerobic exercise that increases heart rate — 5 to 10 minutes walking, light jogging or on an exercise bike. No weight lifting allowed.
Third Level: Moderate activity
Continue activities that increase heart rate with body or head movement — brief running, moderate stationary biking, moderate weightlifting. Time and weight should be less than typical.
Fourth Level: Heavy, non-contact activity
Add heavy non-contact physical activity — sprinting/running, high-intensity stationary biking, regular weightlifting routine, non-contact sport-specific drills.
Fifth Level: Practice & full contact
Athlete may return to practice and full contact in controlled practice.
Sixth Level: Competition
Athlete may return to competition over days, weeks, or months.
Prevention & Helmet Safety
Dr. Saad Saad advises you can help prevent head and brain injuries with a properly fitted helmet:
Worn correctly (latched under the chin)
Appropriately certified for use
Dr. Saad Saad’s advice to parents: No helmet is concussion-proof, but a properly fitted helmet is the best assurance your child is protected from a serious brain or head injury, advises Dr. Saad. It is also important to educate your child or teen on avoiding hits to the head.
Critical Issue #2: Vaccinations
As a parent and a pediatrician, Dr. Saad Saad understands a parent’s worries about their child’s health. He offers his best advice — encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated. He supports the Immunization Schedule released by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Official Stance of Pediatricians and Family Doctors
As a physician, Dr. Saad Saad bases his advice on scientific evidence, which has consistently supported childhood vaccinations. Dr. Saad also respects the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
AAP president Sandra G. Hassink, MD, provides a strong statement: “As a physician, giving parents the advice that it’s ok to skip vaccines, or that measles is not a big deal, is harmful and dangerous. It ignores the fact that immunizations are one of the most effective strategies we have for preventing disease.
“To be perfectly clear, there is no “alternative” immunization schedule,” Dr. Hassink adds. “Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time … it does not make vaccinating safer. There is no alternative if you want the optimal protection for your child,”
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) believes that immunization is essential to preventing the spread of contagious diseases. Vaccines are especially important for at-risk populations such as young children and older adults. The AAFP offers vaccination recommendations, immunization schedules, and information on disease-specific vaccines.
Addressing Confusion About Vaccines
Dr. Saad Saad recognizes the confusion about vaccines, and educates parents to clear up misunderstandings. He finds it helpful to provide historical background on development of vaccines.
The first vaccine was the smallpox vaccine, explains Dr. Saad. Hundreds of millions of people died of smallpox until the vaccine was developed in the late 1800s. The vaccine was given to many people, and by the 1980s smallpox was reported eradicated worldwide.
Smallpox is the only disease to be 100% eradicated. Mumps and polio are nearly gone. That is the power of a vaccine.
Vaccines prevent the spread of contagious, dangerous diseases — measles, polio, mumps, chicken pox, diphtheria, whooping cough, and HPV, says Dr. Saad.
What Exactly Is A Vaccine?
Vaccines are generally created from a weakened form of the disease germ. The vaccine is injected into a leg or arm. Your body will detect the germs (antigens) and produce antibodies to fight them. Those antibodies will stay in your body for a long time — often, for the rest of your life.
With a vaccine, any exposure to the disease triggers the body to fight it off, which creates an immunity to that disease. You won’t get the disease; you are protected from it. This prevents the spread of the disease.
Vaccines aren’t necessary for every disease, says Dr. Saad Saad. Cold viruses, for example, are generally mild and don’t cause complications. However, viruses like polio and smallpox cause disability and even death. Preventing your child from contracting these illnesses is critical.
How Does Immunity Work?
Dr. Saad Saad explains the mechanism of immunity: When you get vaccinated, your body builds up defenses that fight specific germs — aka, immunity. To build up the immune system, the body must be exposed to a specific germ.
The first time your body is exposed to that germ, it produces antibodies to fight it. Building a natural immunity to a germ takes time. During that time, you could get sick again. However, because the antibodies stay in your body, they will attack the germ the next time — so you don’t get sick.
The 5 Best Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child
Vaccines can save a child’s life, and are just as important as baby gates, car seats, and outlet covers, says Dr. Saad Saad. Vaccines protect your child from diseases that used to disable and kill children.
#1 – Today, many serious diseases have been eradicated or are close to extinction — all because of vaccines. Polio caused paralysis and death across America and was the most-feared disease. But due to a safe vaccine, there are no cases of polio today.
#2 – Vaccines are very safe. Vaccines are given to children after scientists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals have studied them for a long time.
Rarely are there serious side effects from a vaccination; the side effect is often a severe allergic reaction. Dr. Saad Saad agrees with scientists that the disease-prevention benefits of getting vaccines are much greater than any possible side effects for almost all children.
#3 – Vaccines help protect all children. However, children in the U.S. still get diseases that are vaccine-preventable. In fact, there have been many more cases of measles and whooping cough (pertussis) in recent years.
Many involved babies too young to be fully vaccinated and they have died from the disease. Some can’t get vaccinations due to allergies or medical problems that weaken their immune systems. Getting every child vaccinated will prevent the spread of disease, which will help protect all the children.
#4 – Vaccines save every parent time and money. If your child is sick with a disease that is vaccine-preventable, the school or child care facility can prevent your child from attending. If you must stay home taking care of your child, you lose work time. You also face expensive medical costs and even the potential for long-term disability care.
Vaccines are a good investment and insurance typically covers the cost. The CDC’s Vaccines for Children program is a federal program that provides vaccines at no cost to low-income families. To learn more, visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/ or ask your child’s doctor.
#5 – Vaccines help protect future children. Vaccines have reduced and even eliminated several diseases that killed or disabled people in generations past.
By vaccinating children against rubella (German measles), pregnant women greatly reduce risk of passing the virus to their fetus or newborn. This prevents birth defects. By continuing to vaccinate, future parents are assured that their children will not get rubella.
Vaccines: The Path to Healthier Lives
Infants, children, teenagers, and adults need vaccines, explains Dr. Saad Saad. Children receive the most vaccines – 14 different vaccines are recommended by their 6th birthday. Some vaccines are given in a series of shots. Some vaccines are combined so they can be given together with fewer shots.
Who can’t get vaccines?
Certain people can’t or should not receive vaccinations. Infants under 2 months can’t get vaccinated. People with certain medical problems cannot get vaccinated. A minority of people are at high risk of bad side effects to a particular vaccine.
This makes it critical for everyone else to get vaccinated, to help prevent spread of the disease for the vast majority of people.
If we stopped vaccinations, what would happen?
If vaccinations stopped, these very serious diseases would return. Smallpox is the only disease that requires no more vaccination; that is because it has been completely eliminated.
Every other disease is still alive in the world. If we quit vaccinating, these diseases would travel and threaten our children’s lives. Disease epidemics would occur again, causing disability and death, just as in earlier times.
This happened in Japan nearly 50 years ago. The Japanese vaccination program for pertussis (whooping cough) had been very successful, with very few cases and no deaths. Then rumors started that the vaccine was unsafe and wasn’t necessary. By 1976, only 10% of children were being vaccinated for pertussis. In 1979, there was a pertussis epidemic, with over 13,000 cases and 41 deaths. Soon after that epidemic, vaccination rates improved. The number of pertussis cases declined again.
Facts About Vaccines
Vaccine myths are all over the internet. The facts below serve to answer many questions about vaccines, and have been published by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Saad Saad shares these facts to reassure parents that vaccines are safe and will not harm their children.
#1 – Vaccines do NOT cause autism.
Research has found NO link between a vaccine and the risk of developing autism. The one paper that suggested a link has been completely discredited. The doctor who wrote that paper lost his medical license. Research is showing that infants may be born with autism, before any vaccinations are given.
#2 – Vaccines are NOT too much for an infant’s immune system to handle.
Infants’ immune systems can handle much more than the vaccines give them. Infants are exposed to hundreds of bacteria and viruses every day. Adding a few more with a vaccine doesn’t add to what their immune systems are capable of handling.
#3 – Vaccines do NOT contain toxins that will harm your child. Some vaccines have trace amounts of substances that could be harmful if given in a large dose — formaldehyde, aluminum, and mercury. But vaccines contain a very small amount that is completely safe.
#4 – Vaccines do NOT cause the diseases they are meant to prevent.
This is a common misconception, especially regarding the flu vaccine. Many people think they get sick after getting a flu shot. But flu shots contain dead viruses, so you cannot get sick from the shot. Even with vaccines that use a weakened live virus, there might be mild symptoms similar to the illness – but you do not have the disease.
Dr. Saad Saad’s advice to parents: Please get your children vaccinated. It is best for the child’s health, and for the health of other children. We must protect our children in the best way possible, and that includes vaccines which have been thoroughly tested and found safe. There is no reason to withhold vaccinations.
About Dr. Saad Saad
Dr. Saad Saad has performed thousands of complex pediatric surgeries on children of all ages, from infants to teenagers during his 40-year medical career. Dr. Saad has served as the Surgeon-in-Chief and the Co-Medical Director of K. Hovnanian Children Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Health Care System in New Jersey. During the 1980s, Dr. Saad was invited to serve as pediatric surgeon for the Saudi Royal family. Over the years, he has participated in eight Medical Missions to Jerusalem to perform free complex surgeries on poor children.
Read more about Dr. Saad Saad: http://chronicleweek.com/2018/04/dr-saad-saad-medical-missions/