The 10 Questions Parents Google the Most
It’s okay to stop scrolling. As a pediatrician and a dad of five, I’ve got answers you can trust.
It's hard to compete with Dr. Google. After all, she never sleeps, she fits in your phone, she anticipates your every need, and she can generate millions of responses in the time it takes me to inhale. On the other hand, as a pediatrician, I work even when the Wi-Fi is down, do not accept paid advertising, and can barely remember most of your basic personal information. I also have a medical degree, more than 20 years of experience treating kids—and stickers.
So here’s my take, all backed by science, on the health questions that moms and dads Google most often. Just don’t ask me for travel directions.
These questions are presented in the order most to least-Googled.
1. Why does my child keep getting lice?
The short answer to this one is: He has hair and friends. The longer answer is that head lice often infest children in child care or elementary school because kids at these ages have the most physical contact with one another. Lice are not a sign of poor hygiene. In fact, some experts think the bugs prefer cleaner hair. Hair length is also irrelevant, so think twice before calling the barber.
- RELATED: What Nits and Lice Look Like
To keep your child from getting recurrent lice, use an FDA-approved product right from the start rather than a home remedy. Not all products also kill the eggs (known as nits), so you may need to treat your child again in seven to ten days once the eggs have hatched.
Machine wash and dry anything that has touched your child’s hair. If an item like a stuffed animal can’t go through the wash, bag it up for at least 48 hours; lice can’t survive more than two days away from a human scalp. Treat anyone who shares a bed with the affected child, and check everyone in the house for lice or nits.
Most important, remember that while lice are gross, they never carry disease. So take a deep breath, put on a smile, and tell your child that you’re about to explain the terms nit-picking and fine-tooth comb. You’ll get through this together—possibly over and over again.
2. Why does my child keep getting strep?
You can stop Googling this one: No one knows for sure why certain children get recurrent strep throat. If your child comes down with more than five infections in a year, you should talk to your doctor about it.
At the same time, it’s worth asking yourself: “Is this actually strep throat?” Only 20 to 30 percent of childhood sore throats are caused by Streptococcus bacteria. The rest result from viral infections like colds and mononucleosis, allergic rhinitis, and gastroesophageal-reflux disease.
However, strep is the only one of these conditions that requires antibiotics, since untreated strep throat could potentially lead to rheumatic fever, a condition that can damage a child’s heart valves. (Some experts say that in extremely rare cases, strep may also cause a serious illness known as PANDAS.)
No one can look at your child’s throat and tell you that she has strep; the only way to know is to obtain a throat swab. Providers first do a rapid strep test, which takes about six minutes and finds 90 percent of strep infections. A negative test should be followed up by a throat culture, which usually takes 48 hours.
Even strep tests can be misleading, though. About one in eight children are “carriers” of strep throat, meaning that the bacteria are hanging out in their tonsils but not making them sick. These kids will almost always test positive. In order to avoid overtreating strep, providers should be selective about whom they test. Children under age 3 and over age 15 rarely need strep tests, since they almost never develop rheumatic fever. The same goes for kids with obviously viral symptoms like mouth ulcers or a cough without a fever.
3. Why does my child have nosebleeds?
Noses humidify and warm the air that we breathe via a network of tiny blood vessels just inside the nostrils. This area is very delicate, and it also sees a lot of action—infections, dry air, as well as tiny fingers searching for boogers. As a result, around 30 percent of children under age 5 and 50 percent of kids ages 6 to 10 will have at least one nosebleed.
If your child has repeated nosebleeds, weather and nose picking are most likely to blame, though colds, allergies, and staph infections can also be factors. Pediatricians often recommend putting petrolatum or antibiotic ointment inside the nostrils and using a humidifier (hot or cool) in a child’s bedroom to help the nose heal.
During a nosebleed, you should apply steady pressure to your child’s nostrils (not the bridge of the nose) for five to ten minutes in order to get the bleeding to stop. Very frequent nosebleeds may indicate any number of chronic or serious conditions ranging from a foreign body in the nose to a bleeding disorder. Your pediatrician will take a thorough medical history and look in your child’s nose to get a better idea of what might be happening. Nosebleeds are rare under age 2, so if your baby or toddler develops one, be sure to tell his doctor.
4. Why does my child keep getting pinkeye?
Pinkeye is only a descriptive term. It’s what happens when the transparent membrane over the eye (called the conjunctiva) gets inflamed. The blood vessels inside it swell and become visible, giving the eye a pink or red appearance. The causes of pinkeye (officially known as conjunctivitis) vary with age. Young children often develop it from a viral or simple bacterial infection, and in these cases, the symptoms almost always resolve on their own. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no child be excluded from school or child care because of pinkeye, but not every school follows this advice. That’s why pediatricians often prescribe antibiotic drops even if the infection might be caused by a virus.
Pinkeye that returns frequently could be a sign of allergies or a more chronic condition, so if it keeps coming back, see your pediatrician or an eye doctor. Also seek care immediately for pinkeye that comes with altered vision, a foreignbody sensation, or pain with light.
5. Why does my child have a fever?
Kids’ fevers are most often caused by viral illnesses like colds, but they can also result from bacterial infections like sinusitis and, more rarely, from serious health issues like autoimmune diseases and even leukemia. But before you start Googling those illnesses, you may want to consider whether your child definitely has a fever.
Foreheads can feel warm for any number of reasons—overbundling, vigorous play, even your own hand being cold. For the most accurate results, use a rectal thermometer to check your baby’s temperature or an oral thermometer for older children. Body temperature varies by more than 2ºF in a day, so doctors use strict cutoffs for fever, no matter what temperature a parent thinks her child “usually” runs.
We count a fever as a rectal temperature of 100.4ºF, an oral/ear/ forehead temperature of 100ºF, or an armpit temperature of 99ºF. Fevers can go much higher (106ºF) without harming your child. In fact, the height of a fever doesn’t correspond to the severity of a child’s illness. Call your pediatrician if your baby is younger than 3 months and has a fever or if your child’s fever persists for more than three days.
6. Why does my child keep getting ringworm?
Ringworm is not a worm at all. It’s a fungal skin infection—and just about every kid gets it at some point. Children pick up the fungi that cause it from one another, cats and dogs, and dirt. In fact, these fungi are so common that doctors can rarely pinpoint the exact source of a child’s rash.
Ringworm often starts as a little red bump, then turns into a raised red round or oval ring over the next few days. However, not all round skin lesions are ringworm. How can you tell the difference? Ringworm usually shows up as only one or two lesions, whereas other round rashes (like eczema or a harmless one called pityriasis rosea) cover more ground.
Treating ringworm on the body requires applying an antifungal cream twice a day, often for two to three weeks. The fungi extend beyond the visible lesion, so be sure to apply it liberally. When ringworm affects the scalp, oral medication is the only way to get rid of it.
7. Why does my child repeat words?
Learning any new skill requires repetition. As they parrot the same words over and over, young children are figuring out how to speak, which requires coordinating dozens of muscles in the mouth and face, and matching words with their meanings. Any language that includes the words to, too, two, and toot is going to require some repeating!
Toddlers often repeat phrases of two or three words (“Daddy go bye-bye”). Preschoolers may seem to stutter, beginning a sentence or a phrase a few times in a row as their brain processes what should come next. A child who repeats whole phrases without seeming to understand their meaning, on the other hand, may be demonstrating echolalia, a symptom of autism. If this habit is combined with other types of developmental delays, talk to your pediatrician about getting your child further evaluation.
8. Why does my child pee the bed?
The number-one reason: He’s normal. Since 15 percent of children still wet their bed at age 6, pediatricians rarely address bedwetting before this age. Kids who haven’t had six months of dry nights are often simply very deep sleepers who don’t wake up when their bladder is full. They may also make more urine than average at night or have a smaller-than-average bladder. Genes play a huge role: Kids whose parents wet the bed after age 6 are likely to stop at around the same age their parents did.
- RELATED: 8 Best Solutions to Beat Bedwetting
Other factors, including constipation and sleep apnea, can cause or worsen bedwetting. Once your child starts using the bathroom independently, you might not realize that she’s blocked up, so ask her. At night, listen for sounds of snoring or gasping. Stress may play a role as well: Family discord, bullying, or financial distress can all contribute. And if your child has started wetting the bed after six or more months of dry nights, or if she is also having daytime accidents, talk to your pediatrician. These issues could be signs of a medical problem, like a urinary tract infection or even diabetes.
9. Why does my child destroy things?
One thing that Google does not do (at least not yet) is ask, “What do you mean by that?” Toddlers and preschoolers often take things apart out of simple curiosity. They want to know: How does a toilet-paper roll work? How about a toy car? A purse? Little fingers are much better at disassembling things than at putting them back together, and accidents happen.
If your child is destroying things in anger, on the other hand, that behavior deserves further evaluation. Stress, poor sleep, a history of trauma, and inconsistent or violent discipline can all lead to behavioral outbursts. Children with developmental delays or autism can also act out in destructive ways. When parents approach me with this complaint, we often spend a half hour or longer sorting out the child’s history and exploring what might be happening. In this case, use Google to find a pediatrician, a psychologist, or a therapist, and set up an appointment.
10. Why does my child hate me?
This question brings tears to my eyes. Children may get angry at or frustrated with their parents, and they may frequently test limits—but they don’t hate their parents. This question usually comes up when moms or dads have exhausted their coping skills, often due to stress or depression.
Some periods of normal child development are infamously trying. Many infants suffer from colic during the first three months of life, when they cry for hours on end and can’t be consoled. Toddlers universally go through a stage in which they hit, kick, or bite when they’re angry. Children at this age have no idea that other people can feel pain, and so they simply need to be removed from the situation until they are able to calm themselves down. Two-year-olds are notoriously demanding, but 3-year-olds can be even more so—and are better at expressing their demands. Of course, teenagers can be so sullen and angry that it’s a cliché.
If you find yourself typing this question into a search bar, please get help. A pediatrician or a mental-health professional can help figure out what’s going on. It’s important to realize that however you might feel at the moment—and whatever your child might yell at you—your children are incapable of hating you.