FAQs from Kids

1. Why do people get sick?

People get sick when germs get into their body and cause an infection. Germs can get into our bodies through our noses (like when someone near you sneezes or coughs) or through our mouths (like when you drink from the same cup as a sick person). Some germs actually live on our skin and can cause infection if the skin gets broken (like when you get a cut or pick open a scab).

2. How small, or big, is a germ? Can you squish a germ?

Germs, bacteria and viruses, are so small you have to have a microscope to see them. They can live on doorknobs and desktops and even your hands without you being able to see them. They are too small to be squished, but you can kill germs by washing your hands with soap and water, or cleaning surfaces (like your desk or the bathroom counter) with bleach or alcohol.

3. Why do I have to miss school when I have a fever?

Having a fever usually means there are germs somewhere in your body causing an infection. People who are sick with fever are contagious; they can spread their germs to the people around them. If you went to school with a fever and gave your germs to your friends, then they could get sick, too. They probably wouldn't be very happy about that.

4. Why am I still sick after I took medicine?

There are lots of different kinds of medicine, and lots of different kinds of germs. Some medicine (like cough medicine or fever medicine) just work to make certain symptoms (like cough or fever) better for a few hours. They don't actually make the germ go away. Other medicines (like antibiotics) actually work on killing the germs themselves. If you have infection from a bacteria (like strep throat), then an antibiotic medicine will get rid of the germ. If your infection is from a virus (like a cold), then the antibiotic won't kill that germ; you just have to wait for it to go away by itself.

5. Do I have to run to get a fever?

Fever is caused by germs that have gotten into your body to cause an infection. Some people say that a sick kid is "running a fever". We don't know why they say that. Most kids with fever would rather lie on the couch than run around.

6. How do you get a cold?

Colds are caused by viruses. These tiny little germs can float through the air after someone coughs or sneezes around you, then get into your nose and throat. These viruses also live on surfaces (like desktops, doorknobs or grocery cart handles) and will get on your hands. Then they travel to your nose and mouth when you put your hands on your face. These viruses cause the cells in your nose to start making lots of mucus (snot), which makes your nose congested (stuffy) or drains down your throat to make you cough.

7. What is a sneeze?

When a virus or irritant (like cigarette smoke or pollen) enters your nose, your nose tries to protect itself by having the lungs send a large amount of air out the nose very fast (about 100 miles per hour!). That's a sneeze.

8. Why do I start to cough and choke every time I cut the grass?

When you cut your grass, tiny particles of grass and dirt (and any weeds you might have in your grass) start flying around. Just look at your pants after mowing the lawn! These particles travel into your nose and mouth and then down into your lungs. Your nose and throat will respond to these irritants by producing mucus. This drains down your throat towards your lungs. Both the mucus and the tiny particles in the air cause your lungs to try to protect themselves by forcing out large amounts of air very fast (coughing).

9. How do I know if I have asthma?

Only your doctor can tell if you have asthma. You or your parents might suspect you have asthma if you have wheezing (trouble breathing) or a really bad cough when you get a cold or exercise really hard. Some kids with asthma wheeze when it rains too much or they are around cigarette smoke. Often a kid with asthma has a parent or sister or brother with asthma.

10. How do you get pinkeye?

Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is usually caused by bacteria. When a person with this eye infection touches his eye, then the bacteria get on his hands. Then, the germs will go onto whatever he touches - the other eye, a video game, a pencil. Whoever touches that video game or pencil next can transfer the bacteria to his own eye, and then get pinkeye.

11. Why do I get chicken pox?

Chicken pox is an infection caused by the Varicella virus. This virus makes you have fever, cough, and little bumps and blisters all over you. Usually once you get chicken pox, your body makes antibodies (tiny soldier cells that fight off certain germs) against the Varicella virus. That way, the next time your body sees that virus, the antibodies will protect you from getting chicken pox a second time. Some kids don't make enough soldier cells the first time they get chicken pox, so then they get it a second time.

Nowadays, kids can get a Varicella vaccine (a shot that protects you against certain germs). This shot helps you make soldier cells without actually getting sick. That way, when your body sees the Varicella virus, you can fight it off and not get the chicken pox.

You can't get chicken pox from holding or kissing a chicken.

12. Why are they called "chicken pox"?

Have you ever seen chicken before you cook it? The skin has lots and lots of tiny bumps all over it. Kids with chicken pox also get tiny bumps and blisters all over their skin. Somebody thought this made kids look like a chicken, so now we call it "chicken pox".

13. Isn't it impossible for me to have strep throat if I don't have a fever?

Strep throat is an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes. Kids with this infection might have fever, sore throat, headache, body aches, swollen glands in their neck, vomiting, and a rash... or, they might have only one of these symptoms. So, it is possible to have strep throat without a fever. It is also possible to have strep throat without a sore throat! Some kids just get the vomiting part (even though the infection is in their throat).

14. Why do I have to get a Q-tip stuck down my throat when I get a sore throat?

Strep throat sometimes gives kids a very red sore throat with white spots on their tonsils... but some viruses can ALSO give a very red sore throat with white spots on the tonsils. The only way to tell the difference is to do a test with the Q-tip in the throat.

15. Why does my ear hurt when I have a sore throat?

Sometimes a sore throat is caused by mucus draining down your throat. When that happens, your nose can also be congested (stopped up). Since any fluid in your ear can only escape by draining down a tunnel to the back of your nose and throat, the nose congestion will block the escape. When this happens, and the fluid is trapped in your ear, it causes some pressure and can make your ear hurt.

16. How do you get an ear infection? What happens inside my ear when I have an ear infection?

See question 15 about ear fluid. This fluid is trapped in the middle ear. That's the part of the ear behind your eardrum (the outer ear is the part that holds your sunglasses and the part where the wax is). When fluid sits in the middle ear for a while, germs can start to grow in it. As the germs are causing infection, pus is formed in your ear, and you have an ear infection.

17. How does an ear infection happen from swimming in the swimming pool?

Swimmer's ear is an infection of the ear canal (where the wax is). Usually, wax in your ear canal protects the skin there, keeping it dry underneath. When you spend a lot of time in water, it washes away the wax. Now the skin that was underneath the wax is not protected anymore. When water stays in the ear canal for a long time, germs start to grow (just like in the middle ear) and cause an infection.

18. Why is an ear infection so painful?

See questions 16 & 17 first. When your infection is in the middle ear (otitis media), all that fluid and pus put a lot of pressure on the eardrum (just like when you eat a really BIG Thanksgiving dinner and all that food puts a lot of pressure on your stomach). The pressure hurts! Sometime you can have just plain fluid in the middle ear, but not have an infection (serous otitis). That fluid can also hurt, because it's causing pressure in such a small space.

If your infection is in your outer ear (otitis externa), then your ear canal will be very red and swollen. That swelling is actually stretching the skin in the ear canal. Try filling up your mouth with as much air as you can. Now try to get even more air in there. Are your cheeks bulging out? Does the skin on your cheeks feel stretched out? That's what happens in your ear canal. Ouch!

19. Why does my tummy hurt sometimes?

There are LOTS of reasons for pain in your tummy (abdomen). The abdomen holds lots of things: your stomach (for holding food), your intestines (for digesting food), your liver (which cleans your blood), your bladder (which holds your pee - urine), and your pancreas (which helps you digest food). Any of these body parts could be having trouble to make your tummy hurt. The most common reasons for hurting here are having to have a bowel movement (poop) or getting a stomach virus (throwing up and diarrhea).

20. Why do I often get rashes on my bottom?

Sometimes the skin under your underwear gets red and irritated. The redness happens because your skin is reacting to something. This might be from not wiping well enough after having a bowel movement (poop), wearing colored underwear, taking bubble baths, or sitting around in a wet bathing suit.

21. Are warts really caused by touching frogs?

Warts (some doctors call them Verrucous vulgaris) are caused by viruses, like the human papilloma virus. This virus can live on floors, towels, video games... almost anywhere. The virus can get under your skin if you have a tiny cut or break in your skin. The virus starts an infection, which eventually pops up as a wart. Frogs are bumpy, but they don't carry warts.

22. I am eight years old, can I get cancer?

There are all different kinds of cancer. Cancer is a group of cells that grow really fast and can make you very sick. These cells can be anywhere in your body - your lungs, your brain, your skin, your blood, your bones. Most people with cancer are grown-ups, but lots of kids (and even some babies) get cancer, too. Most of the symptoms of cancer can be caused by regular sicknesses... having a headache is more likely to be due to strep throat or a sinus infection rather than a brain tumor. Your doctor knows what to look for and what kind of blood tests or x-rays would be needed to make sure you don't have cancer.

23. Where do you get ideas for new medicines?

When scientists are thinking about making a new medicine, the first thing they do is look at old medicines and see if they are working. If an old medicine is not working, then the scientist tries to figure out why it's not working. For instance, some germs have figured out how to protect themselves from a medicine called penicillin (a medicine used to treat bacterial infections in the ear and sinuses). These germs actually learned how to produce a chemical which destroys the penicillin. Scientists made some new medicines that protect the penicillin from that chemical, so then the penicillin can get in and kill the germ.

24. How can I keep from getting mosquito bites?

The best way to keep from getting mosquito bites is to have your parents spray insect repellant (bug spray) on you. You should try to keep your arms and legs covered (long sleeve shirts and pants) when you are outdoors in the late afternoon and evening. Since mosquitoes like to grow where water sits still (like puddles or toys left out in the rain), keeping your yard straightened up will also help.

25. Why can't anything be done for a broken toe except taping it?

Well, we could put an itty bitty cast on it, but there's not much room in between your toes, so it would be pretty uncomfortable. Broken toes tend to get better without much help from us, but it takes several weeks and it probably will still hurt some days.

26. What is a tetanus shot?

Tetanus is a germ that lives in the dirt. If you get hurt outdoors (like stepping on a rusty nail or getting a deep cut that needs stitches) then that germ can get in your body and make you very sick. The tetanus shot actually injects tiny pieces of the tetanus germ into your body. Your body sees this and makes antibodies (soldier cells that fight specific germs) against the tetanus germ. That way, if the whole germ every really gets into your body, your body releases those antibodies to kill the tetanus germ so you won't get sick.


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