Browsing Category

Health and Safety

Children's, Health and Safety

Teen Driving

Automobile crashes are the number one killer of teenagers and the number one cause of disabling injuries for teens.  Sadly many of these accidents are preventable.

Leslie Brown is the coordinator of Alabama Safe Kids at Children’s of Alabama.

She says parents play an important role in encouraging their children to be safe as a driver and a passenger.

“Parents can start by talking to their child when in elementary school about being a safe passenger,” she says.  “Things like modeling safe behavior, wearing a seatbelt every time and putting the cell phone down. They’re going to do what we do,” she says.

In Alabama, the Graduated Driver License Law is a mandatory restriction in place for inexperienced drivers. One of the requirements is that a new driver may not have more than one non-family passenger in the vehicle with them other than the parent, guardian or a supervising licensed driver at least 21 years of age.

Brown says parents should become familiar with the Graduated Driver License Law and download a Teen Driving Agreement for their new driver to sign. This helps to establish important ground rules to keep the new driver safe.  And Brown says, if the teen violates any of these rules there should be consequences. “Take away their keys when they don’t follow the rules,” she says. “You can also offer rewards when they do make good choices.”

Brown says it’s important that teens and adults do these three things:

-Obey the law

-Wear a seatbelt

-Put down the cell phone

Brown has teenagers of her own so talking about safe driving isn’t just part of her job description, it’s personal.

“I always say to my teenagers, ‘Are you a great friend or a good friend?’” she says. I tell them, ‘Encourage your friends to wear their seatbelts.  Ask, ‘Can I send that text for you?’  instead of allowing them to text and drive.”

Getting a new driver’s license is an exciting time for a teenager.  By helping them to know the law and apply safe driving practices, parents can play an important role in keeping their teens alive.

Children’s of Alabama offers links to the Graduated Driver License Law, the Teen Driving Agreement, and more resources for parents and teens. Visit to download these resources.

Children's, Health and Safety

Medication Safety

Parents play an important role in protecting their children from various illnesses and injuries, including poisoning. Dr. Megan Brennard is a physician in the emergency department at Children’s of Alabama. She says poisoning and ingestions are common reasons why children visit the emergency department. “The most common poisoning we see in a child is medication poisoning,”she says.

It’s important for parents to keep all medicines up high and out of reach of children. But sometimes the danger may be brought in by someone else. “Sometimes the most dangerous medicine in your house was brought in by a grandparent,” Brennard says. “They may keep their purse on the floor and not even realize it’s a risk for the child.”

Often adults store medicine in pill boxes or organizers, but parents need to remember these are not child-proof. And to a child, medicine may look like candy. It’s important to talk with guests of your home to ensure any medicine they have is kept out of reach of children.

Along the lines of “candy,” Brennard recommends parents never call medicine “candy.” “Sometimes parents do that to encourage their child to take medicine, but it’s never a good idea to confuse the two,” she says.

All teaspoons and tablespoons are not equal

It’s also important that all medicine be given with the appropriate measuring device as provided by the pharmacist, whether it’s a syringe or measuring cup. Brennard says eating utensils come in various sizes. One teaspoon could range from a half teaspoon to one-and-a-half teaspoons when measured. She also adds that bottle tops for medicine are “child resistant” not “child-proof.” Some children are still able to open them. “It’s a good idea to get a lockbox to store medicine, anything with a code to get in. This adds another layer of protection,” Brennard says.

The Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama is always available to answer questions or concerns. The number is 1-800-222-1222. Brennard recommends that parents store this number in their cell phone for easy access. Of course, always call 911 in the event of an emergency.

Children's, Health and Safety

E-Cigarettes and Vaping

E-cigarettes or electronic cigarettes are being marketed as a safe alternative to smoking, but health officials say they are not safe. Dr. Susan Walley is a pediatrician at Children’s of Alabama. She’s concerned about the increase in the use of e-cigarettes and vaping. “As a pediatrician there are two major issues with electronic cigarettes or vaping devices. One is that these are not safe products and the second is that they contain nicotine which is a tobacco product.” She believes many youth and adults don’t realize e-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive drug that affects the brain, nervous system and heart.

The use of e-cigarettes is on the rise. Starting in 2014, statistics show more youth use e-cigarettes than any other tobacco product. Five percent of middle school students are current users, while 16 percent of high school students consider themselves to be current users. That’s more than 3 million students.

Dr. Walley says it’s a disturbing trend, as she believes e-cigarette manufacturers are targeting children. “E-cigarette companies are using some of the same techniques that tobacco companies did decades ago by making these liquids appealing to children with candy flavors and dessert flavors,” she says. Some examples include “Skittles flavor” and “Death by Chocolate.”

Another concern, because e-cigarettes aren’t fully regulated yet by the FDA, is that the long term effects are still not fully known.

Parents who use e-cigarettes should know the liquid can be very dangerous for children. Between 2012 and 2015 the number of calls to poison control related to e-cigarettes went up by 1,492 percent. “It’s very scary,” Dr. Walley says. “These are completely preventable. There has even been a death from a child who ingested the mother’s e-cigarette liquid. The child had a seizure and couldn’t be resuscitated.”

Dr. Walley says it’s very important for parents, pediatricians and youth to be educated about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping. Because nicotine is so addictive, the best way to avoid the risks is to never start smoking or vaping. If a parent or child is a current user, they should talk to a doctor about ways to quit.

Children's, Health and Safety


Croup can be a scary situation for a child and their parents. The symptoms usually occur at night. A child may awaken with a funny sounding cough and labored breathing. Peily Soong, M.D., a pediatrician at Pediatrics East, said croup is quite common in children. “It’s a very common illness,” Soong said. “It’s an illness that’s caused by a virus, the most common virus is one that’s called parainfluenza, but other viruses can cause it like the common cold or flu.”

The symptoms of croup are relatively unmistakable. They include a distinct cough that is described as sounding like a seal’s bark. It’s often worse at nighttime. Other symptoms that may accompany croup include cold-like symptoms such as a fever and runny nose, as well as a raspy voice.
“One thing about this illness,” Soong said, “It affects the throat area. It can cause swelling in the throat, which can cause something called stridor, a real wheezy sound that they can have while breathing. And that’s something to worry about,” Soong said.

Symptoms of Croup

  • Cough that sounds like a “seal bark”
  • Raspy voice
  • Common cold symptoms
  • Wheezy breathing sound

Parents should act quickly when their child demonstrates the symptoms of croup and particularly stridor, but oftentimes the symptoms can be handled at home. The key is helping the child to breathe in moist air. Soong offers these tips for treating croup:

Treating Croup at Home

  • Turn on hot shower, allow child to breathe in the steam
  • If it’s cold outside, take the child outside to breathe in cool air
  • If it’s warm, open freezer door and have them breathe the cold air from the freezer

In many cases, these actions can help alleviate the immediate symptoms of croup, however, it’s still a good idea to visit the pediatrician the next morning. He or she can prescribe a steroid to reduce swelling in the throat.
There are times when croup becomes an emergency situation. Get immediate care if:

  • Child has trouble breathing with no relief
  • Has stridor that is getting worse
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Shows signs of a “hot mouth”
  • Is pale or bluish around the mouth

The good news is in most cases children can recover quickly from croup with no lasting problems. With proper attention and recommended treatment, parents and child can rest easier.

Health and Safety

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

It’s called the “Silent Killer.”  Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen any time of the year, but people are especially at risk during the winter months.

Ann Slattery is the Director of the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama.  She says it’s estimated that 5,000- 6,000 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year and most everyone is at risk.  “Any time you have an appliance that uses natural gas, a kerosene heater or if there’s a garage attached to the home, or a fireplace you’re at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning,” she says.

Slattery says the number of people who visit the emergency department due to carbon monoxide poisoning is very high.  It’s estimated that 50,000 people a year are poisoned by carbon monoxide.  But because it can be hard to detect and the symptoms vary, one medical journal estimates that the number to be as high as 200,000.  Some of the initial symptoms may be similar to that of the flu.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness


Carbon monoxide poisoning can be called the silent killer because it is:

  • Colorless
  • Odorless
  • Tasteless

Slattery says people often don’t realize dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are in the home.  “It can make you drowsy,” she says.  “Depending how high the levels are you can go to sleep.  Or you may be asleep when the levels rise and not wake back up.”  That’s why she strongly recommends carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home.

“If you have natural gas appliances, a garage, a kerosene heater or a fireplace you need a carbon monoxide detector,” she says.  Slattery says homes should have multiple detectors in key locations.  “You should have a carbon monoxide detector 10 -15 feet away from the garage door, inside the home.  There should be one 10-15 feet from the fireplace.  And there should be a carbon monoxide detector on each level of the home and outside the bedrooms.”

Locations of Carbon Monoxide Detectors in the Home

  • 10 -15 feet from garage
  • 10- 15 feet from fireplace
  • on each level of the home
  • outside the bedrooms

If it’s believed someone has been exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, leave the area immediately and call 911 or visit the emergency department.  For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning contact the Regional Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Children's, Health and Safety

Cold or Flu?

The fall and winter months are cold and flu season. Many children develop sore throats, a cough and sometimes a fever. So how can parents determine if that illness is just a cold or the flu? Both the cold and the flu can present similar symptoms, including cough, congestion and runny nose.

Dr. Lisa Venable, a pediatrician at Midtown Pediatrics, offers these tips. “In general, the flu hits a lot harder than a cold does, and a lot quicker,” she says. “You can have a high fever, fatigue and body aches and feel very, very tired.”


  • Comes on faster and harder
  • High fever
  • Fatigue
  • Body Aches

Dr. Venable says now is the time to consider a flu shot. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the flu shot for everyone over 6 months old. Flu shots can still be administered all the way through the end of the flu season in February or March.

In the event a child does get sick, there are things parents can do to help mitigate symptoms. “Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids,” Dr. Venable says. “You can give Tylenol or Motrin if they have a fever. And make sure they are getting plenty of rest.”


  • Fluids
  • Rest
  • Tylenol or Motrin for fever

Dr. Venable advises parents to bring their child to the doctor if they’re concerned, however, she says it’s not necessary to see the pediatrician for a cold. Most of the time parents can care for their children with plenty of rest, fluids and extra comfort.


Children's, Health and Safety, News

Talking to Children about Current Events

In this day and age, children are exposed to violent and disturbing topics on the news. Reports on natural disasters, shootings and terrorist attacks can be confusing to a child, teaching them to view the world as a scary place. But there are benefits in raising children who are aware of what’s going on in the world.

Dr. Dan Marullo is a Pediatric Psychologist at Children’s of Alabama. He says whether parents should share current events with their child depends on the age and developmental level of the child.

“It definitely depends on the age of the child,”Dr. Marullo says.”Kids of different ages have different needs and different developmental levels. I think regardless of the age of the child, one thing to keep in mind is children learn how to cope with adversity by watching their parents.”

Dr. Marullo says the first thing for any parent to do is to check how they’re coping with the news or what’s going on around them. Parents should keep things in perspective and help children to understand that television has a way of shrinking the world and bringing it into our living rooms. A child watching a news story about an earthquake in California may lose sleep thinking the same thing could happen in Alabama.

Dr. Marullo says younger children, toddlers and preschoolers probably don’t need to see a lot of the bad things on television. “They would have a very hard time managing that so minimizing exposure would be important,”he says.

For school age children, the approach should be different. “For older children, they’re probably going to come across media on their own,”Dr. Marullo says. “It’s important for parents to have a dialogue with their child. Watch the media with them, watch the news with them. It certainly makes a great topic of conversation for dinner time. That way parents can monitor their child’s exposure but also answer their questions and model their own behavior.”

For parents of school age children, keep in mind a little exposure to adversity is beneficial. “The way we learn to deal with adversity is by experiencing adversity,”Dr. Marullo says. “That doesn’t mean we expose our children to everything, but a little exposure with good guidance from a parent is crucial for their healthy development.”

Parents may also want to talk to their child about what can be done to help in a tragic event. Children may gain a sense of control and feel more secure when they think of ways they can help those affected by the tragedy.

If a child seems overly anxious, parents should encourage a break from television. Read, play board games or go outside. Look for opportunities to bond as a family and put things in perspective.

Children's, Health and Safety

Back to School Safety 101

From incoming kindergartners to graduating seniors, back to school is an exciting time. As children prepare to meet their new teachers and reunite with classmates, here are a few tips to help them return to the classroom. 


An essential accessory for students of all ages is a backpack. More important than a backpack with trendy designs and favorite cartoon characters is one with a good fit, said Karen Cochrane, Children’s of Alabama patient health and safety information educator. Select a backpack that is lightweight when it is empty. “It will only get heavier – and harder for a child to carry – when it is full of textbooks, notebooks and binders,” Cochrane said. A general rule is that the child shouldn’t carry more than 10 to 15 percent of his body weight.

Cochrane recommends a backpack with features such as:

  • multiple compartments to distribute the weight of backpack contents
  • compression straps to cinch up the sides of the backpack, bringing the weight closer to the body
  • two padded shoulder straps to evenly distribute the bag’s weight; wider straps are preferred over narrow straps that can dig into the shoulders
  • waist straps to bring the backpack’s weight closer to the body
  • cushioned back panel that makes the bag more comfortable to wear and also keeps pencils and other sharp objects from poking through

Parents should be prepared to buy a bigger backpack as their students get older to ensure they are using an appropriate size, Cochrane said. The load will get heavier as well. Elementary students may only carry their backpacks to and from school, while middle and high schoolers will carry their backpacks throughout the day, full of books, to different classrooms.

School Buses

Before the first day of school, particularly for first-time bus riders, parents should walk with their students to the bus stop to review safety procedures. Cochrane shared these suggestions:

  • Wait for the bus on the sidewalk, at least six feet from the curb.
  • Line up and wait until the bus driver gives the OK before boarding the school bus.
  • Sit quietly on the bus to keep from distracting the bus driver.
  • Never walk behind the bus.

If children need to cross the street once they get off the bus, they should do so in front of the bus, Cochrane said. Then they should take five giant steps (about 10 feet) in front of the bus and make eye contact with the driver before crossing in front of the bus.

“If a child drops something while crossing in front of the bus, don’t pick it up right away. Make eye contact again, and tell the driver right away,” Cochrane said.

And for those of us driving cars, be alert once school is in session. “As you approach a school bus stop, even if you don’t see the bus, assume that children are around,” Cochrane said. If lights on the bus are flashing, be prepared to stop.

Home Alone After School

Some children may come home to an empty house after school. Alabama doesn’t have a law that sets an age when children can be left home unattended. “Even without a law in place, it’s more important that parents ask themselves if their child is ready,” Cochrane said. Consider:

  • the child’s maturity level
  • a record of responsible behavior
  • physical ability to provide care
  • good decision-making abilities
  • how the child responds to stressful situations
  • how comfortable the child is being home alone

“Take the time to talk to your child, discuss the house rules and set the expectations,” Cochrane said. “Another way to prepare with your child is to role play likely situations they could face while home alone: What would you do if ‘this’ happened?” she said.

Parents should specify exactly what the child is allowed to do in the home after school, such as watch television, use kitchen appliances, have friends over, or do chores. But even with rules in place, Cochrane advises that the time when children are home alone should be within limits. “Don’t overdo it,” she said. “Even the most responsible child shouldn’t be left home alone too frequently.”

Avoiding Germs

With a classroom full of students, there will be germs. Washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes are two ways to keep germs from spreading. “If your child is sick, it’s better they stay home,” Cochrane said. “If you’re sick and keep pushing through, you’ll never get better, and the same applies for our children.” And chances are, if your child is attending school when they aren’t feeling 100 percent, they aren’t able to give 100 percent in the classroom.

Establishing Back to School Routines

Summer may be a time when rules are bit more relaxed, and bedtime is later than it is during the school year. But it’s not too soon to resume some school year routines, Cochrane said.

  • Make sure your child is getting enough sleep.
  • Serve a healthy breakfast.
  • Write down ‘need to know’ information: locker combinations, class schedules, teacher names.
  • Organize the night before (pick out clothes, pack a lunch, etc.) so that the morning isn’t rushed.

A few simple changes now could lead to a smoother transition when school is back in full swing.

Children's, Health and Safety


Children and adults are prone to get sunburned, especially during our hot Alabama summers.  In fact sunburn can happen after only 15 minutes in the sun.  But sunburn can be dangerous and repeated sunburns can lead to skin cancer.

So what should parents know about sunscreen in order to keep their children and themselves safe?

Ashley Hanna is a nurse practitioner in pediatric dermatology at Children’s South.

She explains what parents should look for when buying sunscreen.  “We do recommend an SPF of 30 or greater in sunscreen,” she says. “It’s also important to look on the ingredient label for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to be listed in the ingredients.”

Hanna says children should wear sunscreen from the time they are six months old.  Before then, a baby’s skin is too sensitive and it’s best to keep them completely covered with cool clothing and a wide-brimmedhat, or out of the sun altogether.

For all other ages, remember sunscreen is only effective when it’s used correctly.

How to Use Sunscreen

  • Apply sunscreen whenever your kids will be in the sun. For best results, apply sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes before kids go outside.
  • Don’t forget about ears, hands, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Protect lips with an SPF 30 lip balm.
  • Apply sunscreen generously.
  • Reapply sunscreen often, about every 2 hours. Reapply after a child has been sweating or swimming.
  • Apply a water-resistant sunscreen if kids will be around water or swimming. Regardless of the water-resistant label, be sure to reapply sunscreen when kids come out of the water.
  • Throw out any sunscreen that is past its expiration date or that you have had for 3 years or longer.

Hanna says if your child does get sunburned, there are things you can do to help make them more comfortable.  “If your child does get sunburned,” she says, “make sure they stay hydrated, apply moisturizer and you can give them ibuprofen or acetaminophen.”

But watch their symptoms closely.  If there’s any sign of blistering or dehydration, you should call the doctor immediately.  And remember, repeated sunburns lead to skin cancer.  Unprotected sun exposure is even more dangerous for children who have many moles or freckles, have very fair skin and hair, or have a family history of skin cancer.

It’s important for parents to be a good role model by consistently wearing sunscreen and limiting sun exposure. Lead by example to teach children to be sun smart.

Children's, Health and Safety

Summer is snakebite season: How to keep your child safe

Now that warm weather is here, your children are probably spending more time outside. Can you guess what else may be planning to join them? 

“When temperatures are consistently above 34 degrees at night and consistently above 64 degrees during the day, that’s when we start to see more and more snakes,” said Ann Slattery, managing director of the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama. For central Alabama, ‘snake season’ typically runs March through November.

And when there are snakes, there are also snakebites. “We get 150 to 200 snakebite calls per year at Poison Center,” Slattery said.

There are six poisonous snakes that are native to Alabama, five of which are known as pit vipers. Some of the most well known pit vipers are rattlesnakes, water moccasins/cottonmouths and copperheads.

“All snakebites should be seen in a healthcare setting, preferably in an emergency department,” Slattery said. Seeking medical attention for a snakebite is important whether the bite is two punctures, one puncture or even just a scratch, she said.

If your child is bitten by a snake, Slattery has some recommendations. First of all, she said, it is important to remain calm. If the child is having difficulty breathing, parents or caregivers should call 911 immediately. Otherwise, she said, get the child to an emergency department quickly. Do not apply ice or a tourniquet. Remove any restrictive clothing or items like rings, bracelets and watches before swelling sets in. Keep the limb slightly below the child’s heart.

In the emergency department, doctors will treat the wound as well as any exposure to tetanus and bacteria. They will assess for pain and swelling. There is an antivenin for symptomatic patients after a pit viper bite that is administered through an I.V. Patients may be kept in the hospital overnight for observation.

Slattery said here’s one thing you definitely don’t need to bring with you to the hospital, and that’s the snake. “We do not encourage people to capture the snake that bit the child. Doctors will look at the child’s symptoms, not the type of snake. The current antivenin for pit vipers that’s available will treat any kind of pit viper bite,” she said.

The best way to avoid snakebites is to avoid the type of areas where snakes may be lurking. These include tall grasses, dense gardens, and piles of leaves and yard debris. “Always be aware of your surroundings outdoors,” Slattery said. And, remember, snakes are typically afraid of humans and are trying to hide from potential predators. “If a snake bites, it is trying to scare us away.”