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Back-to-School Health Checklist

Written by  Suzanne Ramsey

Even though summer is still in full swing, school will be back in session before we know it. Getting a head start on preparing kids for the new school year is always a smart idea, especially when it comes to their health. 

Some things on the back-to-school checklist can wait until the last minute. Three-ring binders. Pens, pencils and paper. Computers and calculators.

But other things, like a young one’s annual physical, vision test or allergy assessment, require some advanced planning. The following list is a good starting point for parents to use when it comes to checking off back-to-school health needs.

Make sure shots are up to date.

Before the first day of preschool or kindergarten make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date.

Between ages 7 and 10, the CDC recommends children be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and pneumonia. For middle-school-age boys and girls, physicians recommend the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. At that age, children also need a Tdap booster and a vaccine to protect them from meningitis.

At 16, kids need a meningitis booster. The meningitis vaccine is required by colleges, where dorm and dating life puts students at increased risk for the life-threatening disease. Between 16 and 18, the CDC also recommends the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, which protects students from another type of meningitis.

Check iron level.

Have your child’s hemoglobin (iron) checked to make sure they’re not iron deficient. Being iron deficient — sometimes called “anemic” — can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, insomnia and other problems.

Schedule an eye checkup.

Teachers might be using SMART Boards instead of chalkboards these days, but no matter what kind of board it is you still have to be able to see what’s on it. Sometimes, kids aren’t quick to speak up when they have trouble seeing.

Make sure your child gets a yearly dilated eye exam. It is estimated that 80% of a child's learning is through their eyes. Vision screenings can miss more than they find, and while eye disorders are common in children, they often go unnoticed because some have no symptoms early on.  
  ~ Colleen Mitchell, OD; Blacksburg Eye Associates

Schedule a hearing test.

If your child is having trouble hearing, getting help as soon as possible can keep them from falling behind, academically and socially. Sometimes kids might not know they don’t hear very well, so getting hearing checked is sound advice.

Monitoring your child’s hearing is a vital part of your child’s healthcare. An audiologist can accurately monitor your child’s hearing status at any age. Hearing loss doesn’t discriminate. It can come from your family, too much sound, diseases, ear infections, wax and many more reasons.  
  ~ Joanne Dillon, MS, CCC-A, FAAA; New River Valley Hearing

Screen for depression.

At about age 13, many pediatricians start screening their patients for depression. It’s something to think about. Middle school is tough enough.

Get a sports physical.

Is your kid playing sports this school year? They’ll need a sports physical. Schools require athletes have one before tryouts or the first practice.

Alert school about allergies or other health issues.

Does your child have allergies or other health issues that might present themselves at school? Make sure the school nurse knows about these before school starts.

"Parents need to make schools aware if their children have food allergies or asthma. Ensure that a plan of action is in place and that appropriate medications are available at the school."  
  ~ Saju Eapen, MD; Asthma and Allergy Center

Provide list of medications to school.

If your child is on any medication, medical release forms need to be filled out and signed by your child’s doctor. Pediatricians have these forms and can provide to you in hard copy or digital format.

Schedule speech therapy, if needed.

If your child is having trouble speaking or being understood by others, they might benefit from speech therapy. Not being able to communicate or be understood can lead to frustration and even bullying at school.

Think about back health.

Scoliosis screening isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when it comes to your student’s back health. How heavy is your kid’s backpack? Doctors say a child’s backpack, full of books, should weigh no more than 10 percent of their body weight. To help prevent back problems, consider a rolling backpack.

Set a sleep schedule.

School starts early and kids are known to stay up too late, with or without parental permission. At least a week before school starts, start enforcing those bedtimes, so the first days of school aren’t spent sleepy. For younger children, doctors recommend the three Bs: Brush, Book, Bed — as in brush teeth, read a book, go to bed.

Have “The Talk.”

Before leaving for college, there needs to be a discussion about sex, drugs, alcohol and issues like date rape and depression. If you’re not comfortable talking about these things, your child’s pediatrician can have this conversation. Because Mom and Dad aren’t involved, it might even result in a more open conversation and better results.

Schedule dental and other checkups.

Get dental and other medical checkups out of the way before school starts. That way, kids won’t have to miss school for appointments. Try to schedule the year’s second dental cleaning during the winter break, if possible.

Regular dental examinations are needed to diagnose, treat and prevent dental problems. Not all cavities cause pain, so check ups are very important. Your dentist may suggest treatments that will save your child pain, infections and lost school time. Also remember that a properly fitted athletic mouthguard is important for many fall sports! Healthy Mouth = Healthy Kids!  
  ~ Michele Mills, DMD; Mills and Shannon Dentistry

Orthodontics…sooner than we thought.

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that all children have a check-up with an orthodontic specialist no later than age 7. But have no fear, most orthodontists provide this initial consultation at no charge.

Make sure kids know how to find help.

Teach young children how to dial 9-1-1 in case of an emergency. And Mommy’s name is not Mommy. Kids need to know their parents’ names and their address.

Develop independence.

Before preschool or kindergarten, work on developing your child’s independence, so being separated from you at school isn’t such a big deal. One way to do that is by taking them to your local library’s story time session. There, kids learn to be in a group setting with other kids and aren’t constantly with Mom or Dad. Story time also re-enforces reading every day and gets kids ready for school. And it’s free. Can’t beat that.

Play with your kids.

Little brains need to be stimulated over the summer, too. Put down the smartphone. Play board games, read books and create things together.


Expert Contributors:
Saju Eapen, MD with Asthma and Allergy Center in Roanoke.
Michele Mills, DMD with Mills and Shannon Dentistry in Salem.
Susan Dorsey, MD with Dermatology Associates of Roanoke.
Colleen Mitchell, OD with Blacksburg Eye Associates.
Joanne Dillon, MS, CCC-A, FAAA with New River Valley Hearing.