The Signs & Symptoms of 7 Back-To-School Illnesses

Summer is over, and now is the beginning of the school year. Even though school and sports physicals are offered at your local MD Now, you can also prepare your children and house by learning how to prevent and treat the most common back-to-school illnesses, so your loved ones can get back to what’s important: learning.

1. Common Cold

Most colds come and go before treatment is necessary, and are only contagious for the first three days.

Cold symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • Head and body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Slight fever (more common in children)
  • Mild fatigue

Children tend to touch their faces after using communal surfaces such as door knobs, causing them to catch colds more often than adults. Usually rest and fluids are the best treatments for a cold, however a doctor visit may be necessary for a physical examination of the lungs, sinuses, throat and ears if a cold has not gotten better after a few days.

2. Bacterial Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Pink eye is a highly contagious condition that can spread throughout the entire family. It can be difficult to tell if a child’s pink eye was caused by irritation, a viral infection, or bacteria, so it’s best to see a doctor for a complete evaluation.

No matter the type, the same symptoms are seen in every case of pink eye:

  • Pink or redness in the white of the eye
  • Burning, itchy feeling in the eye
  • Discharge from the eye – mucus like or excessive watering
  • Sensitivity to light and wind
  • Difficulty in opening eyes due to a thick, crusty discharge

If caused by a bacterial infection, a doctor will prescribe antibacterial eye drops or ointment. To prevent the infection from spreading, wash hands frequently and avoid rubbing or touching the infected eye. Machine wash pillows and towels in hot water and keep the child out of school until symptom-free for 24-48 hours.

3. Strep Throat

Caused by a bacterial infection, strep throat can become serious if left untreated. Highly contagious, this infection is spread through coughing, sneezing, or hand-to-face contact after touching a contaminated surface or object.

Sore throats caused by strep have the following symptoms:

  • Swollen, tender lymph glands
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Stomach ache, possibly accompanied by vomiting, especially in young children

Unlike a regular sore throat, which requires no medical treatment other than over-the-counter medications, a child with strep should be brought in right away to see a doctor for a throat culture or a rapid strep antigen test and antibiotics. Early detection and treatment will make recovery that much easier.

4. Flu

Flu symptoms are similar to a cold, but often more severe.

Symptoms may include:

  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Fever or chills, in some cases
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Head, muscle, and body aches
  • Extreme fatigue

If the flu is suspected, a rapid flu test can be conducted at a local MD Now. It’s best to treat symptoms within the first 72 hours. A doctor can prescribe medication that shortens the duration and lessen the severity of symptoms.

5. Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

Vomiting and diarrhea are the two most common characteristics associated with the stomach flu. Typically, the stomach flu spreads through contact with an infected individual, or drinking and eating contaminated water or food. Prevention is key, as there is no effective treatment for the stomach flu. Rest and fluids are the best way to keep a child comfortable, while he or she has the stomach flu.

Ongoing stomach pain, fever, or vomiting for over two days can indicate something more serious is occurring. A visit to the doctor may be necessary to diagnose and treat these symptoms.

6. Head Lice

These tiny insects rest on the scalp and feed on blood, leading to an itchy head, and occasionally, an infection. Children’s close interactions have the unfortunate side effect of easily spreading lice from one child’s head to another.

If your child is experiencing the following symptoms, bring them in to your local MD Now for an evaluation and to get a prescription medication if needed.

  • Itching on the scalp and head
  • Lice on head – check for the bugs using a metal two-sided comb and magnifying glass
  • Eggs or nits on hair

All clothes, bed sheets, pillows, and towels used within two days of the infection should be machine washed in hot water and dried. Visit the CDC’s website on lice for additional instructions on treatment and prevention methods.

7. Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a viral infection, identified by small, fluid-filled blisters that can be extremely itchy. Although drastically reduced by the varicella vaccine, this mild disease can still infect unvaccinated children, and on the rare occasion, children who have received their shots. The best treatment is prevention, so make sure your child has received their chickenpox vaccination.

If your child does get infected with the chickenpox, immediately consult with a doctor so they can prescribe medicine to lessen symptoms and treat complications, like the rash spreading to the eyes, or a secondary infection.


The best way for kids to stay healthy is to sleep a recommended 10-11 hours a day, exercise, and have a well-balanced diet.

It’s required by the state of Florida that every child is up to date on certain vaccinations in order to attend school.

For more information on treatment for common illness and injuries, visit our Treatment & Services page on the MD Now site.