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Boost your child's health

The Doctors - | 10/29/2010, 7 a.m.

Get a flu shot.

Health boost: Stay well this season.

Every person 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine -- that's the latest recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. This year's flu vaccine protects against three strains: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season. Flu season typically peaks in January or February, but get your kids a shot as soon as it becomes available. And in the meantime, to slow the spread of germs, teach kids to cover their noses and mouths when they cough or sneeze and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when a sink isn't available).

Learn the symptoms of a concussion.

Health boost: Protect brain development.

Concussions are usually caused by a blow to the head and can temporarily interfere with the way the brain works by affecting memory, judgment, speech or coordination. According to a recent study, the number of sports-related concussions in kids ages 8 to 13 doubled over the course of 10 years, and in older teens, rates increased by more than 200%. Watch for these signs: feeling confused, lightheaded or dizzy, losing consciousness, vomiting, headache, memory loss or slurred speech. Every concussion, no matter how mild, injures the brain, and the injury needs time and rest to heal. If you suspect your child has suffered a head injury, get him evaluated by a doctor, and don't let him back in the game -- or even play rough -- until the injury has healed. Symptoms generally resolve within seven to 10 days. And to reduce the risk of head injuries, make sure your child wears headgear and follows the rules of the game.

Turn down the volume.

Health boost: Preserve hearing.

Two recent studies came to the same conclusions: More teenagers today have some degree of hearing loss -- as many as one in five, says one of the studies; and personal listening devices such as iPods are partly to blame, the other says. Hearing loss is related to both the volume and duration of sound. So how loud is too loud? If you can hear music coming from your teen's headphones from about 3 feet away, it's definitely too high. Sounds louder than 80 decibels (dB) are considered potentially hazardous -- 80 dB is equivalent to an alarm clock or the sound of a busy street. (To compare: 90 dB is a lawn mower; 100 dB, a snowmobile; and 130 dB, a jackhammer.) Warning signs your teen is hurting her hearing: She asks you to speak up often or complains of a pain or ringing in her inner ear.

Schedule an HPV vaccine for your preteen daughter.

Health boost: Help prevent cervical cancer.

The ideal time is 11 to 12 years old, before she becomes sexually active, say new recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can be given to girls as young as 9 (depending on risk factors); those ages 13 to 26 who were never immunized should get "catch-up" doses. Some HPV strains can cause genital warts, but persistent HPV infections are now recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer. More than 12,000 women are diagnosed every year, and about 4,000 die from it. Other vaccines for your teens, boys and girls alike: one dose of meningococcal meningitis vaccine (MenACWY) and one dose of the tetanus/diphtheria/whooping cough vaccine (Tdap). For more information on immunization schedules for kids of all ages and vaccine safety, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website at aap.org/immunization.

Drink a cup of milk three times a day.

Health boost: Increase bone mass.

About 50% of the calcium in adult bones is laid down during adolescence -- in fact, between ages 11 and 14 are when bones need calcium the most, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The reality: Most kids aren't getting enough: Only one in 10 girls and one in four boys are at or above adequate intake levels. To strengthen bones and prevent tooth decay, kids need to drink three cups of low-fat or fat-free milk (that's 900 mg of calcium) and consume about 400 mg from calcium-rich foods. Some examples: 1 ounce of part-skim mozzarella cheese is 207 mg, 8 ounces of low-fat or fat-free yogurt gets you 450 mg, and about a cup of fortified cereal up to 1,000 mg a serving.

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The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.