Ask the doctor

Pets and child safety

We recently brought home a pet dachshund dog. My children love playing with him and also allow him to sleep on their bed. Will this cause health problems? — Divya R., Mysore

Pets, especially cats and dogs, are great stress-busters for children and adults. But it’s important to set guidelines for children vis-a-vis pets, and ensure that child-pet interactions are supervised as they can be unpredictable. 

Moreover, pets must be fully immunised and dewormed regularly. Some diseases spread specifically through animal faeces. Therefore, your children sleeping in the same bed with the pet and kissing him on the snout/muzzle is not advisable. Children must always wash their hands after playing with the dog. 

Keeping a pet at home has enormous benefits. It reduces stress levels, contributes to feelings of peace and happiness and develops the virtue of empathy in children. Recent research also indicates that early exposure to pets may result in decreased incidence of children’s allergies.

Is it ok for children to drink lemon juice — a rich source of vitamin C — when they are suffering from colds and cough? There are conflicting opinions about consuming citrus fruits during a bout of flu. Please advise. — Sheila Baskar, Chennai

Colds and coughs are commonly caused by viruses and these infections usually resolve by themselves. There are many traditional beliefs about curatives for colds and coughs. But most of these remedies merely provide symptomatic relief. For instance, extensive research on consumption of Vitamin C and use of ‘vaporubs’ on the chest has concluded that they don’t help. Some ‘rubs’ contain camphor that can cause seizures in children.

However, some studies indicate that a non-pharmacologic remedy that has a beneficial impact during an episode of cold and cough is a single night time dose of honey. This is likely to reduce symptoms of cough in children above the age of one year. Children aged less than one shouldn’t be given honey because of the danger of botulism, though rare. Fruits and vegetables contribute best to children’s overall physical well-being and there are no known risks of eating them during illnesses, including colds and coughs. 

When my daughter eats prawns, she develops stomach pain immediately. Is she allergic to them?
— Srinidhi Reddy, Vishakhapatnam

Children with shellfish allergy usually develop symptoms such as skin rash, itching, breathing difficulty, diarrhoea and vomiting within few hours of being exposed to shellfish. Abdominal pain that consistently follows exposure to shellfish must also be considered as a potential allergy. Please consult a doctor who specialises in treating childhood allergies. Also, it is important to strictly avoid foods that cause allergies particularly when eating out. Make sure you educate yourself about the symptoms of an allergic reaction, so that you can deal with an emergency until professional medical help becomes available.

I breastfeed my seven-month-old, but after every feed she gets persistent hiccups that last for a long time, even when I burp her on my shoulder. Is this normal? — Reema Sen, Kolkata

Hiccups are not unusual in new-borns and young infants. It’s usually the result of irritation in the diaphragm caused by excess air in the stomach. It is important that you don’t lie down while breastfeeding. Also don’t bottle when lying down and manage the position of the bottle so that less air enters the baby’s stomach during a feed, and burp the baby well after a feed. Once hiccups start, they cease after a while. Infants above six months of age can be given water to help resolve hiccups.

(Dr. Nisha Miriam George is a paediatric consultant at Sundaram Medical Foundation and Dr. Rangarajan Memorial Hospital, Chennai)