Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Back to school: understanding common childhood health issues

portrait image of Alwyn Fortune, Policy and Engagement Lead at RPS WalesBy Alwyn Fortune, Community Pharmacist and Policy and Engagement Lead for RPS Wales

As parents and caregivers, it's important to stay informed about common health issues that affect children. From threadworms to headlice, colds, and warts, understanding these conditions can help you better manage your child's health and well-being. In this blog post, we'll delve into each of these issues, providing insights on their causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment.


Threadworms, also known as pinworms, are tiny worms in your poo that are common in children and spread easily. They spread when their eggs are swallowed. Eggs are then laid at the anus and cause itching. The eggs can be transferred to various surfaces through scratching and can lead to infection if touched and ingested.

They appear as small white threads and can often be spotted in your child's poo or around their anus.

The exact prevalence is unknown, but some studies suggest 20-30% of pre-school and primary school aged children will have threadworm infestation.

Symptoms of threadworm include:
  • Extreme itching around the anus, particularly at night
  • Irritability and disturbed sleep
How pharmacists can help manage threadworms

If you suspect your child has threadworms, a trip to the pharmacist can be helpful. They can recommend over-the-counter medicines like mebendazole which is available in chewable tablets or liquid forms.

It’s important to treat all household members, even those without symptoms.

If you’re dealing with a child under two years old or you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, consult with your pharmacist before using the treatment.

Treatment typically involves a dose on day one and a second dose two weeks later.

Preventing threadworm infections
  • Wash hands and scrub under fingernails regularly
  • Keep nails short to reduce the risk of transferring eggs
  • Make sure children wear sleepwear/pyjamas to bed
  • Wash sheets and pyjamas as often as is practical
  • Avoid sharing towels/hand towels
  • Do not bite fingernails


Headlice and their eggs (nits) are very common in children and their families. They are picked up by head-to-head contact and have nothing to do with dirty, or clean hair. They cause itchiness and discomfort, giving the sensation that something is moving in the hair.

Detection and treatment of headlice

To detect headlice, use a special fine-toothed comb – available at pharmacies – to comb through the hair. If live lice are found, treatment is essential. There are two main methods:

  • Wet combing: Wash the hair with shampoo, apply lots of conditioner and using a fine-toothed comb, comb from root to tip. This will help to remove lice and their eggs.
  • Medicated lotions and sprays: These kill lice and are recommended if combing alone doesn’t suffice. Some need to be left on the hair overnight and some can be left on for a shorter duration but it’s important to follow the minimum time suggested to ensure sufficient contact time. Pharmacists can guide you on suitable treatments and how to use them.

While it’s challenging to prevent head lice, you can take proactive steps by regularly using a detection comb to identify them early. It’s important to treat only those in the household who you have confirmed to have head lice.

Children's colds

Colds, caused by various viruses, are a common occurrence among children as they build immunity.

Most colds get better within a week, but some can take up to two weeks. While there’s no cure for the common cold, there are some things you can do to ease symptoms.

Easing cold symptoms
  • Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluids
  • Use saline nasal drops to relieve congestion
  • If your child has a high temperature, regular paracetamol or ibuprofen can help (ibuprofen not suitable in some asthmatics)
Managing coughs

Coughs often result from post-cold mucus tricking down the throat and are beneficial in clearing the chest. Pharmacy teams sometimes recommend soothing linctus to make it more comfortable for your child.

Coughs are normally self-limiting and improve after a few days, but if your child’s cough persists for a number of weeks, your child has a high temperature or is shivery, seek advice from your GP.

Warts and verrucas

Warts are small, rough lumps on the skin caused by a virus. They normally go away on their own but can take many months or even years.

Verrucas are warts that usually develop on the soles of the feet and are more likely to be painful, like standing on a needle.

These growths are more common in children and teenagers but can affect anyone.

Warts are contagious and can be caught by skin-to-skin contact, or from contaminated surfaces e.g. the area surrounding a swimming pool. You are more likely to get infected if your skin is wet or damaged.

Treating warts and verrucas

Pharmacists can recommend treatments including acid-based gels, liquids and plasters that require regular application, or cryotherapy (freeze method). Some treatments can take a number of months to eradicate the wart.

Preventing wart and verruca spread
  • Wash hands after touching warts or verrucas
  • Avoid ‘picking’ or scratching them
  • Cover them with plasters or socks when swimming
  • Avoid sharing towels/flannels

Understanding and managing these common childhood health issues can significantly impact your child's well-being. Seeking professional advice when needed, implementing preventive measures, and following recommended treatments can make a significant difference. Remember, a pharmacist can be a valuable resource in guiding you through these challenges and providing tailored solutions for your child's health.

Read more RPS blogs.


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