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Too Sick to go to School? Too Well to Stay Home?

separator Sometimes it’s a balancing act—you can’t decide whether your child is too sick to go to school or too well to stay home. It can be hard to get concrete answers from kids when you ask them how they feel. The most common illnesses you have to worry about are colds, flu and strep throat. Here are some guidelines you can follow when you’re making your decision.

Most of the time, there’s no reason for a cold to keep a child home. Kids are most contagious before the runny nose even starts, so by the time you know the cold is there, the damage has already been done.

But if your child feels really horrible, it’s probably a good idea to keep him or her at home. It’s hard to concentrate on learning when you feel bad, and there are times when a cold is bad enough to make anyone want to do nothing but stay home and take it easy.

To reduce the fever and achiness that often accompany a cold, you may want to try acetaminophen. Don’t give your child aspirin. It can cause a rare condition called Reye’s syndrome.

The flu has symptoms that are similar to a cold, but the difference is that they come on quickly and are often much more severe. With a cold, there might first be a sore throat, then a runny nose, then maybe a cough. With the flu, everything comes on at once.

In most cases, a child who has the flu feels too sick to go to school. The high temperature chills and aches make a kid feel miserable. You can treat the symptoms with acetaminophen, and as soon as your child is feeling better, it’s time to get back to school.

Strep throat
The common sore throat that’s often the first sign of a cold is no reason for a child to stay home from school. But about 10 percent of the time, a sore throat is the more serious type—strep. If you don’t treat strep throat, there’s a chance that the bacteria that causes it can travel to the heart and cause serious damage.

Symptoms of strep throat include high fever, swollen glands and pus on the tonsils. But the symptoms can sometimes be mild, so it’s hard to tell whether it’s strep or not. The only way to be sure is to go to the doctor for a throat culture.

Your doctor will probably prescribe an antibiotic if strep is present, and your child is free to go back to school 24 to 48 hours after treatment begins. That’s when the strep is no longer contagious.

Common sense plays a role
A lot of times, you simply need to stop and think about whether it makes sense to send your child to school. Ask yourself if it’s too risky or if your child will be harming others. 

A child who is vomiting or who has diarrhea, for example, should stay home. Nobody feels well enough to go to school or work when they’re throwing up or having abdominal cramps and running to the bathroom. Besides, you want to make sure your child is getting enough fluid, and that’s difficult to do in school.

When children have chicken pox, they’re contagious as long as the spots are full of liquid. When the spots dry out, your child can go back to school.

Most of the time, just take a step back, assess the situation, and ask yourself whether you would want to be in school if you felt the way your child does.

American Academy of Pediatrics
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