7 kids’ health questions you might be too embarrassed to ask

From worms to body odour and breast buds, our experts answer some of the health questions parents often feel awkward asking their child’s doctor.

Feel self-conscious raising certain subjects about your child’s health with your GP?

The House of Wellness resident doctor Dr Nick Carr and Victorian Children’s Clinic director and general pediatrician Dr Lexi Frydenberg are here to help – read on for their answers to some common but awkward questions.

Does my child have worms?

Dr Frydenberg:

Worms, particularly threadworm infection, in kids are unbelievably common.

If your child has an itchy bottom or itchy vaginal area, especially at night, there’s a chance that it’s worms.

You can go to the chemist and get an over-the-counter worm treatment from the pharmacist.

You treat the child and the whole family, and take preventative measures such as washing all the linen in hot water.

Threadworms sometimes cause or worsen vulvovaginitis (inflammation of the vagina and vulval area in younger girls).

This is because the worms crawl out from the girls’ bottoms in the middle of the night, and the girls itch while they’re asleep, and the area gets inflamed.

So when we have a girl with an inflamed or itchy, red vaginal area, there are several things we do, one of them being to treat for worms.

Is my son’s foreskin too tight? And how do I wash his penis?

Dr Carr:

In little kids, leave it alone. The foreskin is attached to the head of the penis through adhesions and does not retract.

These adhesions slowly break down over the years, but sometimes the foreskin doesn’t fully retract until the teenage years.

Phimosis (tight foreskin) in older kids can usually be effectively treated with steroid cream applied twice daily for six weeks.

If this doesn’t work, it may be time to visit a urologist for a dorsal slit (sounds worse than it is) or circumcision.

How to clean under the foreskin? You don’t, and you don’t need to.

Wait until your son’s foreskin is fully retractile, and then show him how – by which time he’ll say, “For God’s sake!”.

Why does my daughter have uneven breast development?

Dr Carr:

Uneven breast bud development in girls during early puberty is common.

Definitely just leave alone, as it’s normal for girls to develop asymmetrically, particularly early on.

Why does my son have breast buds?

Dr Carr:

Breast buds in boys normally settle after puberty is over, so no intervention is needed.

Why does my child have body odour?

Dr Frydenberg:

Children usually start to develop body odour when they start going through puberty, which is actually much younger than most people realise.

In Australia, girls normally start going through puberty between the ages of 8-13 years, and boys between 9-14 years.

Often, parents are worried that “my child’s starting to smell”, and that may be a sign that puberty is starting.

It can be something parents get embarrassed about because they think it’s about poor hygiene, but it’s not necessarily – it can be due to hormone changes.

In a child of pubertal age, it’s very normal to have body odour, so we talk about what the child and family can do to help the smell so it doesn’t become an issue at school or with friends.

Good hygiene, regular showers, washing under the arms and around the groin, and using antiperspirant are all things that can help.

Is my child’s poo normal?

Dr Frydenberg:

Questions about poo are very common and range from “How often should my child poo?” and “What should it look like?’” to “Is it too hard or too soft?”.

It’s fairly common to have a bit of diarrhoea or mild constipation.

But the red flags to watch out for are if constipation or diarrhoea is prolonged, there’s blood or mucus in the stool, or it comes with other concerning symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, fever or your child looking pale or lethargic.

Then it’s worth getting your child checked.

How do I talk to my teen about sex and sexual health?

Dr Frydenberg:

It’s not a one-off conversation – you need to start early and keep having ongoing conversations over time.

Remember, the more we’re embarrassed as parents, the more the teen is going to be embarrassed about it, so work out what your comfort level is and offer for them to get professional advice from their GP or their sexual health clinic.

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